Interlink Alliance

Ohio University group (L-R): Stephanie Sanders, Cecil Walters, Debra Thompson, Renee Hagerty, Alexander France, Courtney Kral, President Roderick J. McDavis, Tyrone Carr

Photo courtesy of: The Interlink Alliance

Interlink Alliance

Renee Hagerty presents her research at the forum

Photo courtesy of: The Interlink Alliance

Interlink Alliance

Keynote speaker Karl W. Reid addresses the audience

Photo courtesy of: The Interlink Alliance

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Students present research in The Interlink Alliance African American Males forum

Three Honors Tutorial College students from Ohio University had the unique opportunity to participate in a policy planning session in an event titled "A Roundtable on African American Males in Higher Education: A Policy Conversation." 

Courtney Kral, Alexander France and Renee Hagerty presented their findings at The Interlink Alliance forum which was needed to begin this discussion. 

The event took place at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) on April 2.

The students jumped at the chance to participate when Debra Thompson, assistant professor of political science at Ohio University, asked for their help in creating a policy memo on the issue of representation of African American males in higher education. 

"I have focused on race a lot in my time studying political science here, and it seemed like an awesome chance to do something practical in that field. I couldn't pass up the opportunity," Kral said.

The benefits the students received from the whole experience were multifold. One such benefit was developing their research skills and gaining a better understanding on the problem. In their investigation, they found that African American males in Ohio had a four-year graduation rate of only 8 percent compared to white males at 30 percent. 

"I was surprised by the vagueness of the language we encountered in every state," Hagerty said of the state-level policies of several different states. "Despite all the data (statistically) that indicate a crisis of low-levels of educational attainment for African American males, none of the statewide policies address this population at all." 

These findings were then crafted into a policy memo that contributed to the students' development of their writing skills. 

France noted that this project gave him the assurance to tackle greater academic challenges in the future, such as his senior thesis. 

"Before my experience with the memo, writing an honors thesis seemed like a daunting task," France said. "It now seems much more manageable. I'm confident that I can handle the research and writing necessary."

The students also had the chance to practice their presentation skills at the forum. In the presence of presidents and administrators from various member institutions of The Interlink Alliance, the students and Thompson reviewed what they discovered in the six states they studied and talked about access, engagement and retention – three dimensions needed for the success of African American males in higher education. Besides presenting their case, the students took notes and facilitated the discussion. 

All students expressed appreciation for this remarkable opportunity. France said he felt very comfortable once reaching the roundtable. 

"All the participants were warm, welcoming and very receptive to what we had to say," he said. I felt that they respected the work we put in and the conclusions we made. It was exciting to be treated like a peer in a room full of such distinguished people."

For Hagerty, the project gave her the chance to work on a project that will help her in the future. 

"This experience was immensely valuable for me because I intend to pursue education policy as a career. The entire experience has been worthwhile beyond measure," she said. 

Thompson described her team as being stellar. 

"This wasn't just a situation where these students were my research minions – they participated in the development and execution of this project from beginning to end," Thompson said. "They worked their tails off and produced a final product that greatly impressed President McDavis and his colleagues in The Interlink Alliance." 

Tyrone Carr, executive director of The Interlink Alliance, said that the event was a success. 

"We achieved our goal," Carr said. "Our goal was to start the conversation with the research and the background information and having enough information to write a policy brief. We have already begun the process of writing the policy brief and the next step is to begin planning for a national conference."

The Interlink Alliance is a consortium between nine universities, of which Ohio University is a member. Its core mission is to prepare African American students for success in the 21st century. 

President Roderick McDavis and President Patricia Hardaway of Wilberforce University hosted the event that featured President Freeman Hrabowksi III of UMBC, who was named to chair the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans by President Barack Obama. 

The keynote speaker was Karl W. Reid, senior vice president for Academic Programs and Strategic Initiatives at the United Negro College Fund.