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Links Group Makes Cheyney Its First Stop on HBCU Tour

December 21, 2012

From l to right: Chief of Staff and Deputy to the President, Sheilah Vance, Eastern Area Director, The Links, Inc., Dianne Hardison, CU President Dr. Michelle R. Howard-Vital, Eastern Area Chair, HBCU Initiative, Gail Coles Johnson

From l to right: Chief of Staff and Deputy to the President, Sheilah Vance, Eastern Area Director, The Links, Inc., Dianne Hardison, CU President Dr. Michelle R. Howard-Vital, Eastern Area Chair, HBCU Initiative, Gail Coles Johnson

Links, Incorporated. Eastern Area Director Dianne Hardison and Links, Inc. HBCU Initiative Chair Gail Coles Johnson toured Cheyney University for the first stop on a series of visits to 14 Eastern Area Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The purpose was to ascertain what needs the schools have and figure out how the woman's volunteer service organization can help.

Cheyney University's Chief of Staff and Deputy to the President, Sheilah Vance, a member of the Penn Towne Chapter of Links, Incorporated, arranged their visit to CU. She and Cheyney President Michelle R. Howard-Vital, a member of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Links, Incorporated,  personally conducted the tour of the oldest building on campus, Humphreys Hall, named for the university's founder, philanthropist Richard Humphreys.  The building recently underwent a careful renovation that retained many of the original architectural details. Hardison and Johnson were blown away by the spacious apartments that will soon be occupied by honor students. 

In addition, they toured the historic quadrangle where they learned about Dudley Theatre, and Brown, Emlen and Carnegie Halls.  Seeing the new residence hall and the Aquaponics facility brought them back to the 20th century and showcased more of what CU has to offer.  Justin Derro, General Manager of Herban Farms, showed the women the tilapia pools which support a lush basil crop.  Both were fascinated with the set-up.  "Oh my stars," Johnson exclaimed.  "That was amazing." 

During the campus tour, Dr. Vital told Johnson and Hardison that Cheyney and HBCUs, in general, have many needs.   "We would welcome any assistance which will help us develop an endowment or identify research that we could collaborate on," Vital acknowledged.  "And of course," she added, "there are never enough scholarships at HBCUs."

"The number one constraint on most HBCUs is financial," Johnson agreed.  "They don't get huge endowments, enrollment is down across the board and a large number of students need financial help and scholarships."

Hardison knows about HBCUs first-hand.  She graduated from one--Virginia State University.  She said, in a sense, HBCUs often do what African American slaves did.  They "would take scraps, leftovers, whatever the families didn't eat and they'd make a delicacy.  Whenever I see what African Americans can do with such limited resources," she admitted, "it motivates me to do whatever I can."

Hardison says her organization is deeply committed to the survival of HBCUs.  "As African Americans we are obligated to support our youth in their quest for higher education," Hardison explained.   "We want to help provide scholarships for deserving students to continue their education."

Speaking of education, Johnson, a mother of three teenage sons, is about to start touring prospective colleges with her oldest, a high school junior.   "I was pleasantly surprised at Cheyney and put it on the list of schools to visit," she said.  "Cheyney is just a gem--a best kept secret."