Virtual College Send-off
“Very Inspiring! I’m in tears of joy!,” one of our guests exclaimed. We kicked off our week of college visits, on Monday, April 3, 2023, with a packed virtual send-off teeming with excitement and energy. Over fifty donors and friends showed up at our virtual event at 9am to cheer on our girls and young women as they embarked on their weeklong visits.
This 30-minute virtual event was hosted by one of our college graduates, Tihitina Dagnachew, and featured presentations by two of our seniors, Esther and Amel, both of whom will start their journey toward their bachelor’s degree this fall.
“I have tears in my eyes thinking about the incredible journey of this young lady. Sincere congratulations!,” declared one of our donors after Amel’s presentation. There was lots of interaction as guests asked Amel and Esther many questions and made comments in the chat.
The event took on greater intensity and excitement when one of our supporters, Retired Colonel James Paige, made a surprising announcement that he was awarding $500 scholarships to Esther and Amel. This fall, Esther will attend Virginia Tech and Amel will attend Spelman College.
“Congratulations to all of you for your amazing accomplishments and thank you for sharing all of them with us,” said one of our guests.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, we introduced a hybrid model where we visited colleges in-person and online. We visited Howard University in person and met with President Wayne A.I. Frederick, Provost Anthony K. Wutoh, and also met with women undergraduates. We attended a session on admissions and financial aid and watched a women’s basketball coaching practice at the gymnasium. Our online visits were to the University of Lynchburg in Virginia and Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Our Visit to Howard University
On Tuesday, April 4, 2023, our girls and young women travelled by metro, bus, and car to meet on the campus at Howard University. This was SisterMentors second visit to the campus since we started our college visits many years ago and the first in-person college visit since the onset of Covid 19.
Established in 1867, Howard is a private research federally chartered historically Black university (HBCU) in Washington, D.C. Commonly referred to as “The Mecca,” Howard has about 11,000 students in its undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, offers more than 210 areas of study within its 13 schools and colleges, including its law and medical schools, and has a radio station and a hospital. In the first five years of its existence, the university educated more than 150,000 freed slaves and has among its alumni such notables as Toni Morrison, Alain Locke, Thurgood Marshall, Zora Neale Hurston, Chadwick Boseman and Vice President Kamala Harris.
President Frederick and Seventh Grader
Our Meeting with President Wayne A. I. Frederick
Our visit began with meeting President Frederick and Provost Wutoh who both took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. SisterMentors girls and young women had read profiles of both the president and provost and asked lots of questions during our meeting. It was a privilege to meet and dialogue with the two top leaders at Howard, both of whom eagerly answered questions, shared stories about their children and did not hesitate to give advice.
President Frederick is Howard’s seventeenth president. He has served in the role for over nine years and is stepping down this spring. The president graduated from high school at the age of 14 and simultaneously earned his bachelor’s and medical degree from Howard University at 22 years old. The president introduced himself as a cancer surgeon by training, talked about his education and career and about what Howard offers to its students.
“What inspired you to become a surgeon?,” one of our young women asked. President Frederick responded by relating his journey of living with sickle cell disease which resulted in frequent hospitalizations as a child in his home country of Trinidad and Tobago. He wanted to pursue a medical career to find a cure for sickle cell but instead fell in love with surgery. Surgery captivated him and he knew that this was what he wanted to do. He added that he has never met another doctor who has sickle cell disease. When another highschooler asked him how he managed with the disease, he responded that growing up he drove his mother crazy since he was a voracious reader and would read anything he could find at home or during his many hospital stays. He advised our girls and young women to “read anything you can get your hands on” and explained that reading comprehension is important for any subject including Math. Reading expands your vocabulary, he stated and shared that he learns a new word every day.
“Who inspired you when you were growing up?,” another one of our young women asked. While having sickle cell motivated him to pursue a career in medicine, the president credits his mother as his major source of inspiration and motivation. As a nurse in Trinidad and Tobago, his mother took him along with her to patients’ homes where she delivered babies and treated injuries. He was unfazed by the sight of blood so his mother knew that he could be a doctor and helped finance medical school.
When asked by one of our young women what qualities and skills the next president of Howard should have, President Frederick responded that he has said that it should be a woman, but since Howard is so complex, he just hopes that it is someone who falls in love with the university.
Our Meeting with Provost Anthony K. Wutoh
Provost Wutoh and Seventh Grader
Right after meeting with the president, we met with Dr. Wutoh who serves as Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Howard. Dr. Wutoh has been a practicing pharmacist since 1990 and has a longstanding history at Howard having served in the administration for 27 years including as Dean of the Pharmacy School.
“How did you become an intern with the US Senate?,” a young woman asked. Dr. Wutoh responded that one of his graduate school professors offered him the opportunity to work on a project in the US Senate examining access to new drugs. When asked how he sees the world today from a pharmacy perspective, the provost said that today we have medications that we didn’t have previously but that access is still an issue because of the wide divide between the rich and the poor. The final question one of our young women asked Dr. Wutoh was if, as a pharmacist, he takes lots of medication. Dr. Wutoh responded that he does not like taking medication because every drug has side effects. He takes a pill to regulate his blood pressure, but lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, are effective alternatives.
Dr. Wutoh left us with advice to eat well and stay as healthy as possible.
Meeting with Howard Women Students
“I have my whole life to be in the minority, but only a short time to be in the majority,” a Howard student said. We had two occasions to chat informally with a group of women undergraduates at Howard. We had a delightful and informative lunch at Sankofa Video, Books and Café located near the campus and owned by the acclaimed Ethiopian filmmaker, Haile Gerima. We also enjoyed a wide-ranging tour of Howard’s campus with two extremely knowledgeable graduating seniors.
At lunch, students shared their experiences at Howard including internships and job opportunities, exposure to fellow students from diverse cultures and backgrounds, and talked about their classes such as computer science and theatre.
Our extensive tour of the campus included the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, the infamous courtyard where the Physics, Chemistry and Biology buildings sit, referred to by students as “Death Valley” because “this is the place where GPAs come to die.” When asked if anyone walks on the grass of the Yard, one of the students responded that legend has it that if a student walks on the grass, they are doomed to not graduate in four years.
Since one of our highschoolers plays varsity basketball, we ended our campus visit with a visit to the gymnasium to watch a women’s basketball coaching session.
Our Visit to the University of Lynchburg
The University of Lynchburg is a private university, founded in 1903, and one of the oldest co-educational institutions in Virginia. Our host was Gloria Simon, Assistant Director of Admissions, who we met several years ago when she was in admissions at Sweet Briar College. Ms. Simon said that her top priority is helping students find their “fit” — is her university the best fit for a student? Overall questions students should consider are how far away from home they would like to be, what size college they prefer, and what are current students saying on social media about that college. She also advises students to have a ready-to-grab backpack in case of an emergency, especially with current extreme weather events. Ms. Simon also touched on financial aid and told girls that they should not accept the first package they receive from a college but should instead always negotiate for more funds.
Our Visit to Wake Forest University
Our visit to Wake Forest University was a long time coming since we had planned to meet with Wake Forest in 2022 but that visit had to be rescheduled for this year. Our day-long visit included a session on admissions and financial aid, a session on Leadership and Character, and a meeting with a student of color on her experience at Wake Forest.
We started our day with our gracious host, Janessa Dunn, Vice President of Admissions. Ms. Dunn congratulated SisterMentors on our twenty-fifth anniversary last fall and shared some fun facts about the university. Wake Forest University is not actually located in Wake Forest but in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It is a private, predominantly white university with 32 percent racial and ethnic diversity. Its close to 9,000 students are from all 50 states with 80 percent from out of state. Winston Salem is home to both Krispy Kreme donut and Texas Pete Hot Sauce – the latter despite its name, Ms. Dunn pointed out, is actually not made in Texas. Student-faculty research is a hallmark of the university and close to 60 percent of undergraduate students take advantage of this opportunity.
Session on Leadership and Character
One of the highlights of our visit was a session with Raven Scott, Associate Director of Programming and Team Building in the Program for Leadership and Character. Originally from Louisiana, Ms. Scott is a former teacher and athlete, has taught English in Spain and runs many workshops on leadership development and character. Ms. Scott explained that the Program for Leadership and Character is based on Wake Forest’s motto, Pro humanitate — for humanity, which is about developing character to serve humanity. She started with a quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.” It is not just about intelligence, she added, it is also about who you are including as a daughter, sister, friend and colleague. In response to a question about what advice she would give to middle schoolers, Ms. Scott responded that middle school is tough because social interaction can be difficult. She advised our girls to be honest, have courage to speak up if a friend is being mean to others, and to practice intentional kindness.
Panel of Seniors
We asked our seniors to share their college admission journeys with their peers in SisterMentors. Some of their advice included managing time well to stay on top of deadlines, asking mentors for help when feeling stressed, getting a head start with college essays by taking seriously the work assigned by SisterMentors during the summer before senior year, and creating a spreadsheet with all submission deadlines.