White Schools, Black Advocates - Black Enterprise

White Schools, Black Advocates

Ten years after joining a pre-professional organization in her field, Jennifer Webb is still reaping the benefits. Toward the end of her junior year at the University of Minnesota, Webb had the opportunity to attend the 1998 Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences Regional conference.

That year, a recruiter for the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered her a summer internship. At the end of the internship they asked her to return for another internship next summer, offered to pay the remainder of her tuition, and offered her a permanent job upon graduation. But Webb, who had already had a full scholarship, was still hesitant.

“At first I did not recognize the opportunity that I was given. I just wanted something to do for the summer,” says Webb, who originally had her mind set on going directly to graduate school and then getting a Ph.D. in food microbiology or food science research.

The next summer, the USDA recruiter and MANRRS member became her mentor and helped her navigate the government politics and bureaucracy. He convinced her to stay with the USDA and delay applying to graduate school.

“He knew from my personality that I was more people-oriented and that a lot of the positions in research were not. He told me [I didn’t want to get] pigeonholed as a researcher,” Webb says. “He also helped me understand the broad range of the field that I was in. I just knew, R&D, quality assurance, and sensory.”

Instead, helped by her mentor’s influence, Webb worked her way up the career ladder and eventually enrolled in a mid-career program at the University of Maryland where she received a master’s degree in public policy in 2008. Now, as a consumer safety officer at the USDA, Webb enjoys working with colleagues to assist in the development of new food safety policies and travels as an instructor teaching food inspectors across the country.

Webb is an example of a black student who achieved academic success and graduated from a traditionally white university (TWI). Although black people are attending TWIs at higher rates than they are attending HBCUs, studies show that they are not completing their degrees at TWIs at the same rate as black students attending HBCUs. Research also shows that the more engaged students are, academically and socially, the more likely they are to have higher GPAs than students who are not.

Roger L. Pulliam, founder of the National Black Student Union, an organization formed to enhance the quality of life for undergraduate college students at white schools, and colleague Richard McCregory, director of the McNair Scholars Program, both at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, are not as much concerned about graduation rates as they are about how well a student is able to use their education to transition into a successful career.

“When we say successful academically, we mean not just successful in the sense that they will be retained and graduate, but also successful