On a blustery Friday night in February with a steady rain falling, students from NYU and Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) trooped into Pfizer Auditorium at the latter’s Brooklyn campus for a three-hour workshop — Donna O. Johnson’s Guaranteed 4.0 Learning System — for which over 300 students had pre-registered. That’s right: Students were voluntarily spending their Friday night at a seminar that promised to help them improve their grade-point average.
That fact doesn’t faze Rose Sterling, assistant director of NYU-Poly’s Career Management Center and NACME Liaison for the campus. “Students are eager to make the most out of their experience,” she said. “Rain or shine, they’re here to get what they need in order to continue succeeding.”
More impressive to Sterling was the event’s coordination by student members of the National Action Council for Minority Engineers (NACME). Spurred by his own experience using Johnson’s system, sophomore and NACME student ambassador Corey Harper generated enough excitement among two of his classmates—Daniella Patrick and Ximena Aristizabal, themselves NACME scholars and ambassadors—that the three approached the administration to request funding to bring Johnson to NYU-Poly. “They took the initiative,” said Sterling, “and they put together a good argument.”
But then NACME is committed to supporting members beyond the scholarships it awards to students in financial need. For instance, last month the organization offered a series of webinars with companies such as IBM and Eaton that gave students the inside line on those firms and tips on how to better prepare for careers there. In some cases, the companies invited select attendees to interviews.
The professional development opportunities and assistance NACME provides is invaluable, says Patrick. “You need a motivator,” she says, “someone who can tell you, ‘You can do this and this is how you’re going to do this.’”
Such support is especially critical to minorities underrepresented in the engineering fields and who struggle with issues other races or those in higher socioeconomic classes don’t have to face. “The fears you have when you’re in a minority [group],” says Patrick, shaking her head.
Some ask themselves, “Do I need to provide more income to my household? How can I even think to go to school that costs such-and-such? Or maybe I shouldn’t even think of college. Maybe I should focus on work instead of high school,” she continues.
Besides concern for the well-being of their family, Johnson suggested lack of familiarity with the college experience is another hurdle for underrepresented minorities. During a break from her presentation, the educator explained how many members of her family—her grandmother, mother, and three older siblings—had attended college. “When you grow up with a background like that, college becomes normal,” she said. “It has more to do with exposure and learning how to learn.”
Anita Farrington, dean of student affairs, agrees and is considering incorporating Johnson’s workshop into next year’s student orientation program. “This is not necessarily about changing an ‘A’ to a ‘B,’” she said in her welcoming remarks to seminar attendees, “but about changing a ‘C’ to an ‘A.’”
Farrington recognizes the significance of jumping from one letter grade to another and made sure attendees received free of charge the workbooks Johnson’s learning system requires. Holding up the slender document, Farrington noted, “It’s a very thin book. It represents something manageable.”
For students facing daunting academic workloads and busy lives outside of school, being able to manage different spheres of life is key. Surveying those who had reserved time to figure out how they might do exactly that, Farrington said, “We have a cool bunch of students.”