Cheyney University Blog

The Butterfly Effect—Small Interventions Can Change Our World

April 05, 2010

Dr. Michelle Howard Vital, Derrius Quarles, and Sylvester Pace (NEED Director, and Cheyney University Alumnus)

Dr. Michelle Howard Vital, Derrius Quarles, and Sylvester Pace (NEED Director, and Cheyney University Alumnus)

Recently, I have become interested in the concept of the Butterfly Effect. My reading about the concept suggests that it is part of a theory—chaos theory—where simple interconnected tiny differences in inputs could lead to noticeably divergent outcomes. I am sure that my understanding of the Butterfly Effect misses most of the nonlinear natural of the differential equations which help to explicate it to those with much more quantitative ability than I have. However, suffice it to say that, it seems that given slight differences in initial conditions, there is a possibility for divergent outcomes.

When employed in a model to predict weather, the butterfly concept suggests that, “a butterfly flapping its wings in South America can affect the weather in Central Park.” (, downloaded on March 27, 2010).

Since I rarely predict weather beyond expressing believe or disbelief regarding the daily weather forecast, the butterfly effect concept to me underscores the value that slight variations, such as the impact of a conversation with a faculty member, can have on the lives of our students, their families, and the communities from whence they come. It makes me wonder what the outcome would have been without those conversations, interactions, and role models.

An example of this butterfly affect in process seems to be delineated in the story of a young man named Derrius Quarles. A little while ago, Geri and I attended the annual NEED scholarship reception in Pittsburgh. This event is in usually very well-attended with nearly 800 students, families, and scholarship sponsors in attendance. Sylvester Pace, NEED director, and Cheyney University alumnus, invited a young man named Derrius Quarles to deliver the keynote speech. In his keynote address, Mr. Quarles, who is currently a student at Morehouse College, related his journey from inner-city Chicago foster child to the recipient of over a million dollars in scholarships which enabled him to attend Morehouse College.

According to Mr. Quarles, his father was stabbed to death when he was four year old, and his mother suffered from substance abuse. By the time Derrius was 17 years old, he was living on his own and stealing food to survive. After a bout with the juvenile system, Quarles encountered the Butterfly Effect. He affirmed that persistently low expectations by others eventually pushed him to the limit. Derrius attested that it was a conversation with one faculty member that helped to motivate him to “pull himself up by his bootstraps” and to prove all the naysayers wrong. That one conversation had a great impact on his motivation and success in applying for and achieving a million dollars in college scholarships.

All faculty and staff at Cheyney University certainly have the potential to cause such a butterfly effect on the lives of all students enrolled at the University. The alumni of Cheyney University often affirm the power of this effect when they tell me similar stories about how one faculty member, one coach, or one staff member’s influence was the butterfly effect in their lives. Because of the influence of Cheyney University in their lives, many alumni seek to contribute to the inputs of the University experience of the current students by sharing their time, resources, and employment contacts. You can see the effects of their works with the increase in scholarships from the C Club, the CU Foundation, the National Alumni Chapter, and the numerous local alumni chapters.

Salome Thomas-El in his book, Immortality of Influence, further seems to suggest that the butterfly effect can result in divergent outcomes not only influencing one student’s life—but ultimately affecting our collective well-being. When you think of it like that each interaction we have with a student or a potential student takes on an enormous significance—we are shaping our collective futures.

You can learn more of the Derrius story by consulting downloaded March 27.

Tags: butterfly effect , NEED , negro educational emergency drive , Sylvester Pace

Add comment


What a great story with Derrius Quarles. One conversation with a faculty member was the linchpin to prove the naysayers wrong... What an opportunity for faculty members! Here's to hoping the butterfly effect from faculty to students has massive positive impact.
Anderson | GRE Review 11:07AM 09/01/10
Thanks for this post, Dr. Vital. This is part of what my graduate school thesis is going to be about! :)
Ky'a Jackson 4:44PM 04/05/10



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