From Monday, April 11 to Friday, April 15, 2022, SisterMentors girls and young women virtually visited seven colleges and met with President Carmen Twillie Ambar of Oberlin College. During these exciting and informative visits, we heard from admissions, students of color and deans about life at the colleges. Also, as part of our ongoing efforts on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM), we hosted a panel of SisterMentors women scientists.
In its 25-year history, SisterMentors has visited 35 colleges and met with 18 university presidents in person and virtually visited 10 colleges and met with 5 presidents. The most exciting aspects of our college visits are meeting with women of color students and women presidents, particularly Black women presidents such as Carmen Twillie Ambar (Oberlin College), Valerie Smith (Swarthmore College) and Brenda A. Allen (Lincoln University). Our relationship with President Ambar goes way back from when she was the Dean of Douglass College, Rutgers University in 2006.
Our Visit with President Carmen Twillie Ambar of Oberlin College
“She inspired me to try harder in school in order to be as successful as she is one day,” said one of our girls after our meeting with President Ambar. We felt privileged to meet the first African American President of Oberlin in its 188-year history, and one of the fittest college presidents in the US — President Ambar works out with the football team and has done 18 tire flips in 60 seconds. Oberlin students wear T-shirts that read: “My President is Stronger than Your President.”
The president took time out of her very busy schedule to virtually meet with SisterMentors girls and young women. She had flown back to the college on a red eye from California the night before but was full of energy and enthusiasm during our meeting. Two of our young women had previously met with President Ambar in-person during SisterMentors college visits. Tihitina Dagnachew, one of our recent college 2 graduates, and Sofia Diaz, one of our eleventh graders, had both met with the president when SisterMentors visited Cedar Crest College in 2016 when President Ambar was the president there. When asked to give advice to our fifth and sixth graders, the president told them to figure out now what gives them joy both inside and outside the classroom and then take that with them to high school and college so that they can easily choose their career. When asked if they would like to be a university president one day, one of our young women responded: “Yes because it would take me out of my comfort zone and I would love to lead.
Oberlin College and Conservatory
Our girls and young women spent a day virtually visiting Oberlin, a small liberal arts college and conservatory located in Oberlin, Ohio. The day included a panel of deans and directors at the college who support students, a meeting with an extraordinary student studying neuroscience who produced a musical destined for Broadway, and an inside look at how the admissions office selects incoming students.
Oberlin is the first American college to open its doors to African Americans in 1835 and where the first black woman to earn a degree from an American college, Mary Jane 3 Patterson, received her bachelor’s degree. For the daylong visit, we were graciously hosted by Ana Richardson, Assistant Director of Admissions and an Oberlin alumna. A unique aspect of Oberlin is that it also has a world class conservatory where students train as professional musicians and where students from the college can take classes and receive lessons from conservatory professors. Student life is steeped in collaboration. Students at both the conservatory and college live harmoniously as they take classes together, live together, and perform together all on one campus.
“People need to learn more about black culture and it is important to celebrate black excellence,” one of our girls said about Cyril Amanfo’s musical, Olympus. Our girls had the wonderful opportunity to meet Cyril, a fourth-year Oberlin student majoring in neuroscience and theater who spoke to us about the musical he wrote, choreographed and performed in. Olympus fuses Greek mythology with afro-centered histories and was performed at Oberlin’s Wurtzel Theater. The characters in Olympus are young immortal Black gods who are figuring out how best to lead their kingdom. Cyril was dissatisfied with the portrayal of Black life as tragedies, so he created Olympus as his way of injecting joy and celebration into Black narratives. The music, written by Cyril, is infused with elements of gospel, hip-hop, rap, R&B, and Afrobeat, far from any typical Broadway tunes. He also served as Olympus’ choreographer and recounts rehearing with the cast for up to ten hours a day during their three weeks of winter break. But Cyril is not new to creating musicals. In his second year he wrote, directed, choreographed, and starred in his original work Equilibrium through Oberlin Student Theater Association. With aspirations to take Olympus to Broadway, Cyril hopes to spread this story of Black excellence. Some words our girls used to describe Cyril are “talented” and “charismatic.
In addition to Oberlin, we experienced a virtual day at Hampton University, thanks to a SisterMentors alumna, Judi Moore Latta, who graduated from Hampton. Martin Luther King Jr’s mother, Alberta Williams King, Booker T. Washington, and Wanda Sykes are notable alumni of Hampton. The civil rights icon Rosa Parks studied and worked at the university. Our visit was warmly hosted by Kelsey Rountree, Assistant Director of Admission, and a Hampton alumna. We also spent time with Dean Angela Nixon Boyd, Dean of Admissions, who dialogued with our girls and young women about their future plans. 4 A distinguished historically black college located in Hampton, Virginia, Hampton University was founded in 1868, three years after the abolishment of slavery. Fondly referred to as “Our Home by the Sea,” Hampton is located on the banks of the Hampton River where students can study marine and environmental science right in their backyard. Hampton also offers an aviation program which has trained many black pilots since the 1980s. Certainly a one-of-a-kind institution, Hampton has an equestrian program where students can learn the basics of proper riding etiquette at the state-ofthe- art “Stable by the Sea.”
Our meeting with Hampton’s students was described by our girls as “informative, “enjoyable,” and “enlightening.” The virtual atmosphere was brimming with excitement and there was lots of engagement from our girls who asked lots of questions including, “how was your transition from high school to college,” “what do you do for self-care?” and “how does it feel now that you are about to graduate?” The students openly spoke about the importance of self-care, what it’s like attending an HBCU, some of their favorite Hampton traditions, and how they felt about the mandatory curfew set for first-year students. “The bedtime was funny, but understandable,” one girl remarked
Bryn Mawr College
“Women are stronger when they help each other,” one of our young women said when asked what she learned from our visit to Bryn Mawr. A women’s college, founded in 1885 and located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, about thirty minutes from Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr is known for its beautiful scenic campus. It was the first women’s college to offer the Ph.D. We were hosted by Anna West, an admissions counselor and alumna of the college and began our visit with the following quote: “There is something to be said about the world when women run it.” The college is part of a Tri-College Consortium with Swarthmore, Haverford and the University of Pennsylvania and students can take some classes at these institutions. Bryn Mawr is a writing-intensive college which encourages collaboration among its students. “Women’s colleges have taught me that you should always be confident,” said one of our eleventh graders.
University of the District of Columbia
“I think I can fit in with people with the same struggles as me and have more time to find out what I want to do,” said one of our young women when asked if she can see 5 herself at UDC. UDC is a land grant public historically black university in Washington, D.C. and the only public university in the city. While offering undergraduate and graduate degrees, UDC also has a community college and a school of law. Students can start in the community college and work their way up to earning a law degree. Our visit was graciously organized and hosted by Sabrina Fulghum, Director of Recruitment and Admissions, and we were delighted to receive a warm welcome from the dynamic Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean April Massey. Dean Massey talked about the opportunities for women on campus to hear their own voices and how the college has put its mission into action. We also heard from students and from an alumna who gave a moving testimonial about how the university supported and nurtured her education as a mother and native Washingtonian.
“Students should have a head start on how college is going to feel and be able to earn college credits without having to pay tuition for classes,” one girl remarked. The girls learned about UDC’s REAL (Reaching Excellence in Academics and Leadership) Deal Summer Bridge Program. The 6-week program admits 30 students the summer before their first year to take two tuition free college courses, one on diversity and another on intensive writing. Students are paid $225 a week for a total of $,1350 and take experiential trips including to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and to UDC’s Firebird Farm located in Beltsville, Maryland. Impressed by the summer bridge program one of our young women remarked, “UDC seems to help students with anything they need and that is very important when trying to reach your goal.
Sarah Lawrence College
When asked if she can see herself at Sarah Lawrence College, one of our young women responded: “Yes, because I get to choose my own courses. I would love that!” Sarah Lawrence is a small residential college sitting on 44 acres of woods in Yonkers, New York, about thirty minutes from New York City. Our girls and young women were warmly greeted by Jennifer Gayles, the director of admission, who explained that the college was originally a women’s college and became co-ed in the 1960s. The student body consists of 1,400 students who work in close collaboration with their faculty academic advisor (called “dons”) for a personalized course of study which includes conference work which usually results in writing a conference paper. The college’s courses are writing intensive, seminar based and interdisciplinary focused. “I learned to not be 6 afraid to let my voice be heard,” said one of our young women after the Q&A with Sarah Lawrence’s women students of color.
Panel with SisterMentors Women Scientists
“Don’t get discouraged by being the only woman of color in your field,” responded one of our young women when asked what she learned from our panel of women of color scientists. We had a wonderful session with SisterMentors women scientists Dr. Treda Grayson (environmental science and public policy), Dr. Ropa Denga (cognitive science), and Alisa White (doctoral candidate in bioengineering). The panel responded to questions about how they became interested in science, who are their women of color 7 scientist role models and how science shows up in our daily lives. “Yes, I am very interested in science and so far I have gotten A’s these past quarters,” said one of our sixth graders when asked if she can see herself as a scientist.