Recent N.C. A&T Grads Discuss Next Steps and the Power of HBCUs.

By Tonya Dixon / 05/20/2021 Academic Affairs, Alumni

EAST GREENSBORO, NC (May 20, 2021) – If ever there were questions about the relevance, strength, impact and capability of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the students who attend them – and there are many who pose these questions – six friends and recent North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University graduates have strong opinions and boast medical and law school acceptances and corporate job offers in response to naysayers and doubters. recent-grads-web.jpg

“After looking at many PWIs (predominately white institutions) in high school, I decided to attend an HBCU. I went to A&T and I never looked back,” said Sierra Toney.

“This group alone is a testament to the fact that HBCUs can and will produce Black professionals,” said Jewel Washington. “Both of my parents are HBCU graduates. So, for my family, we have always known the power that HBCUs held.”

With an economics degree in hand, Jasmine Armstrong is headed to Google. Olufemi Olatidoye, whose parents and brother all graduated from N.C. A&T, received a degree in chemistry and will attend Columbia University Medical School in the fall. Brenda Caldwell has a degree in political science, with a minor in philosophy. She’s going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law. Jewel Washington’s degree in chemistry and minor in psychology is her foundation for Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Boasting a degree in management, Sierra Toney accepted an early job offer from Dell. Through a pre-medical track, Malek Mitchell earned a degree in biology with double minors in chemistry and psychology and will attend Brown University’s School of Public Health.

As a first-generation student, Mitchell says he experienced pushback from high school counselors about going to an HBCU. “I didn’t understand why they were doing that. I heard nothing but great things about A&T,” he said. “And once I got here, I was fully convinced that HBCUs do a great job at preparing you for the world. One summer we did a research program [with students from PWIs] and we were doing better than them. It’s a testament to A&T.”

It’s not just the academic excellence they believe they received, but it’s also the diversity of thought and experiences they will be able to carry into workplaces and other educational spaces. A&T, like many HBCUs, is home to students of various nationalities, ethnicities and cultures.

“We can provide a different perspective that some will never be able to see or understand,” said Toney. She recounts ice breakers during her internships when the conversations or answers were unrelatable to her cultural experiences, but she says those situations were invaluable lessons as she becomes a corporate human resources executive, teaching her to make sure all spaces have opportunities for relatability and inclusivity.

This friend group is tight. They have encouraged one another during difficult times and celebrated each other’s wins. Toney says her mom always told her to never be the smartest among your friend groups – in other words, surround yourself with those who will lift you up and, at the same time, make sure to do the same for someone else.

“Being at an HBCU, sometimes you don’t even have to seek out mentors, but you have professors and advisors … and they want to see you succeed. That’s a true gem that comes from attending an HBCU. It becomes a family and those people want to see you win,” said Caldwell.

Armstrong credits her department chair with helping her to garner her first internship with Ernst & Young. “It really set it off for me because it’s unheard of to have that type of internship with [one of] the big four accounting firms as a freshman,” she said. “He’s been a mentor to me. There have been others in corporate America, but he’s been consistent with pouring into me and he’s always been supportive because he knows that I can truly do anything I put my mind to and I’ll have an impact in any area that I’m in.”

“I want to be an inspiration for other people that look like me and are younger than me, to show that it is possible to get to these places. I want to have a legacy showing that I came from A&T and went to Columbia. I did it. Others can do it too,” said Olatidoye.

Heading into law school, Caldwell says, “I was able to grow as a person [at A&T]. I feel very confident going in. I was meant to be here and I’m going to succeed here.”

They all agree that they are not the exception; rather they are indeed the norm.

“I’m 100 percent not the exception. Being where I’ve been these last four years, I’ve been able to see so much black excellence around me and I’ve also realized that it doesn’t all look just like our friend group,” said Armstrong. “I want to shine the light. I want to show the excellence and potential in my culture.”


Media Contact Information: tddixon1@ncat.edu