October 27, 2011 by akiappes · Comments Off
By Andy Garcia
Sitting over a laptop computer, Celia Soto clicks through course assignments and extracurricular activities. With less than 30 minutes before her next class, she organizes her academic life on the Paul Quinn College campus.
Less than a year ago, Soto was a recent immigrant from Mexico, working as a waitress and a sales clerk at a bazaar in Dallas to save money for a college education. Despite graduating with honors from Duncanville High School, she thought it would take “two or three years” before she could pay for school.
Today, Soto is a presidential scholar at PQC, with her four years of tuition waived. For Soto, it is a path to new possibilities. For the historically black PQC, located in Oak Cliff it’s part of an ongoing effort to evolve.
“We don’t see it as diversity, we see it as expanding our mission to places that others just might not have thought to look,” Paul Quinn’s President Michal Sorrell said.
The Center for Historically Black Colleges and Universities Media Advocacy, Inc awarded Paul Quinn HBCU of the year in March. Criteria includes ‘community outreach initiatives’ and ‘student engagement by way of enrollment’.
This semester, seven out of 193 students enrolled at PQC are identified as nonblack. Five are listed as Hispanic and two are listed as Asian on PQC’s registration demographics.
“The first day when I moved in everybody was like ‘welcome, how do you feel’,” said Soto, a 19-year-old legal studies and criminal justice major. “I feel so good.“
But PQC has faced problems in recent years. Academic and financial issues have plagued the college, resulting in the loss of its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2009.
Since then, the college has worked to improve its reputation. For fiscal 2009 and 2010, the college accumulated approximately $2 million in budget surpluses.
By 2010, the college received accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. TRACS is a national accrediting body for Christian institutions. PQC is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The college also works to help the surrounding Oak Cliff community by providing organic food through the operation of an on-campus farm.
In August, the Wall Street Journal examined historically black colleges working to expand their enrollment demographic. PQC was one of the school’s recognized for its efforts.
In June, Soto and other incoming students attended a summer bridge program at PQC to accumulate six academic credits and learn more about the college. She remembers that she was met with warmth from her peers.
“I [felt] like I’m home because they were really nice people,” said Soto.
Along with an interest in expanding their knowledge of other cultures, many of the first year students have a common bond through their relationships with PQC recruiter Jessika Lara.
Lara, whose family is originally from Mexico, was one of PQC’s first presidential scholars and graduated in Dec. 2010. She says she was so interested in PQC’s efforts to grow that she wanted to continue being a part of it.
Lara has helped recruit prospective students by bringing them to campus and getting to know who they are on a personal level.
Freshman business administration student Giovanni Macias considers one of the leading factors for why he chose PQC was his ability to talk to Lara whenever he needed to. He remembers text messaging her on a weekend asking her about the school.
“She gave me all this information about life here and she started convincing me, on a Saturday morning, too,” Macias said.
The time Lara spent with her recruits has developed in a bond among them all. Students often come to her office throughout the day to talk with her about their lives.
“We really are a close knit group,” Lara said. “They don’t leave my office.”
Throughout the summer bridge program, Soto formed lasting friendships. One girl she met, T’Edra Jackson, is now her roommate.
Jackson, an 19-year-old business administration student who hails from Baton Rouge had not interacted with Hispanic students before the bridge program. However, Soto’s race did not prevent the girls from becoming friends.
“She would come to my dorm and study, and I would come to her dorm and study and we just started bonding,” Jackson said.
In her time at the college, Soto has both offered and benefited from peer tutoring, and she was also encouraged by a member of the faculty to establish a Latino Association on campus. Soto says she has about 11 members comprising both Hispanic and black students. The group’s first campus event was in mid-September and celebrated Latino culture. About 40 students attended.
Zae Whitaker, an undeclared 17-year-old and one of the black students in the Latino Association, had been concerned about not finding enough diversity when he was considering PQC.
“I wanted it to be a school where there was diversity, so I could embrace more cultures because I already know what it’s like to be black,” Whitaker said.
Apart from his participation in the Latino Association, Whitaker is also working with a classmate to teach Latin dancing to members of both the school and the local community.
As summer closes in it’s time for students to start thinking about what internships are available. Most students will go for internships that align with their area of study, are paid or come with nice perks. However, some students who want to make a difference in a community or try something different consider working for a nonprofit organization.
Although they are usually unpaid, nonprofit internships can teach students more than just volunteer work. One nonprofit strives to help students get more out of interning beyond their field of study.
Project Transformation is a nonprofit Christian organization that provides leadership development internships to college students. PT offers community oriented programs for low-income children and youth across North Texas. With nine summer sites throughout Dallas for various college interns, including SMU, PT has locations in Elm Wood, Pleasant Mound and Oak Cliff. Over 500 students have served as interns in the summer and after-school programs and 66 percent come from Texas.
Mary Ferguson, Oak Cliff site coordinator of PT and former intern, said during the summer internship, reading is the focus of the community program.
“We focus on their [children and youth] reading level improving and their confidence in reading,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson also believes success is gauged with a reading assessment at the beginning of the summer program and again at the end of the program.
“Over the years, PT has seen improvement in grades during the school year and reading levels in the summer,” Ferguson said.
PT has been serving various communities for 12 years. Two SMU directors from Perkins School of Theology are on the board of directors for the nonprofit, organizing many community outreach events and providing a “safe and caring” children and youth after-school and summer program. The children and youth receive over 3,000 hours of one-on-one reading time each year. And the program cultivates bonds between staff and youth and among interns.
The bond instructors make with the children has inspired some to come back, like intern Sarai Gonzalez who currently attends the PCI Health Training Center in Dallas.
“You get to see how it has grown, made a difference and how it reaches out to different communities,” said Gonzales, a returning intern.
Gonzalez, a child of the first year of the PT program, now regularly interns for PT and is majoring in nursing.
“They really encourage us to go to college,” Gonzales said.
As a United Methodist affiliated organization, PT also offers opportunities for people who are thinking about going into ministry or service work, and interns have the option of participating in these components. About 43 former interns have enrolled in seminary and eight currently serve as staff in United Methodist Churches. For the summer, interns receive a $2,500 living stipend distributed twice a month and an education voucher of $1,250.
“Students are not going to get rich working for PT,” said returning intern and Paul Quinn College senior Antwan Habersham. “When students intern for PT it is for the experience and college assistance,” Habersham said.
Habersham has also noticed that by helping the children and youth with their study habits, his have improved too.
“We [interns] have made bonds,” said Sanford-Brown College intern Tasha Wright. “We all treat each other like family.”
The interns and staff all agree that working for a nonprofit is a great way to create an intimate bond with other student interns and build lasting bonds with the children and youth.
“I feel that [PT] has helped me a lot,” Wright said.
Wright said the experience is building her patience for the medical field and teaching her how to be a better listener.
“If you enjoy spending time with kids, you would love the program,” Wright said. “You’ll feel better as an overall person.”
According to Habersham, homework and literacy is the most effective way to help children in the community. Habersham, who has a similar background to the children, said PT is about helping each other out.
“It’s a great opportunity to work with children and feel the love they have to offer,” Ferguson said. “We have over a 100 interns and it’s a great community to serve with.”
“You’ll love the program,” Wright said.
Click here for more information on interning for Project Transformation.