Though their importance is questioned by some today, there are advantages to attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Two big advantages are small class sizes and the personal relationships that can be developed with the faculty. These two factors were integral to my success at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU).
It wasn’t just the close relationships with the faculty that were advantageous, but also the “tell it like is” mentality with which they taught. The instructors felt as though they had to be hard on students in order to make them competitive, to help them reach their potential, and ultimately, to achieve their dreams. Some students rejected this approach, while others embraced the guidance and the coaching.
Many students who major in the biological sciences do so with hopes of going to medical school and becoming a physician. Not only is being a medical doctor a well-respected profession, but it is believed to lead to a life of wealth and prosperity; something many doctors and the author of The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley, would debate.
During my first year at the university a very simple but very important piece of advice was passed along to the students in a Concepts of Modern Biology class. That advice was simply that students should take some time to research their careers of interest.
“You all keep saying that you want to go to medical school, but you don’t have the slightest idea as to what it takes to get into medical school, or what’s going to happen once you get there,” the professor, a Ph.D. of Cell Biology, passionately implored the students. She was small in stature, but commanded the room authoritatively.
She further advised her students, “What you all need to do is to go to the library, pull out a book on health care professions and read up on what it will take to become a medical doctor.” She would often say that “the slots are limited”, meaning that it was very competitive to get into medical school and they would only take the best of the best. A couple of talented students from JCSU in that era did in fact go on to medical school to pursue their dream.
It was debated quite a bit at the time whether or not students from a small HBCU like JCSU could get into medical school. The students who made it in proved that it could be done, but again they were some of the best and brightest that the Natural Sciences Department had to offer. They were talented, focused and hard working.
Going back to the professor’s advice, at least one of the students in the class followed her advice. His findings will be revealed in part two of this article.