As graduates of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, and the over 100 fellow Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the nation, exit their University’s Quad and advance to break down barriers and make significant strides in their respective fields – and in life, they never forget where they came from. Alumni repeatedly credit their institutions as the driving force that bred their success, noting that had it not been for their HBCU experience, one that extends well beyond the classroom, their outcomes would be drastically different
Cheyney alumni Leonard Brown (‘17) and Dr. Janelle L. Williams (‘07) share similar sentiments.
Recently, Brown and Williams returned to their alma mater to document their HBCU experience and share how attending Cheyney prepared them for their current endeavors for a segment, entitled “Life After Graduation.” The segment will be featured as part of an upcoming episode of the PCN TV show, Infinite Opportunities.
“College wasn’t always in the plans for me,” said Brown, who is now an In-Store Partner/Sales Representative with the Kraft-Heinz company. “My junior year of high school, I transferred to Imhotep Charter (located in Philadelphia) where they stressed the importance of a college education. While there I developed a support system of advisors and mentors, the majority of whom were alumni of the University. It was there that I discovered Cheyney is where I belonged.”
Williams on the other hand, always felt college was the logical path following high school graduation, however she characterized herself as an average student that held self-doubts about her future prior to attending Cheyney. “I chose Cheyney for two reasons: 1. Cheyney is entrenched with a significant history that is reflective of both my culture and my identity; 2. Cheyney promised me a home away from home and made a commitment to my future.”
Though the pair, who are both Philadelphia natives, matriculated at Cheyney a decade apart, they share the commonality of having studied Business and Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management (HRTM), and having been students in the University’s distinguished Keystone Honors Academy (KHA), which offers full-scholarships (covering tuition, fees, room and board) to high achieving undergraduate students.
While at Cheyney, the scholars immersed themselves in every opportunity afforded to both Cheyney and KHA students, on and off the historic campus.
Williams, became a student-athlete after securing a spot on CU’s Track & Field/Cross Country roster, and later sprinted her way through a host of commitments, including; being a Frederick Douglass scholar and mentor, Social Chair of CU’s Student Government Association (SGA), a writing tutor, Resident Advisor, Sophomore Class President, Senior Class Vice President and joining the sorority Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. She also completed three competitive internships with Metz Foods, the Starwood Hotel Group and Sodexo, and studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa.
Brown also took advantage of all that Cheyney had to offer. He spearheaded several community based leadership projects, including The Good Neighbors Initiative, completed a total of six internships and one intensive, and fully-funded, study abroad opportunity in Norway. There he studied leadership, peace and environmental sustainability. Additionally, Brown participated in several honors conferences as both a speaker and an attendee.
Brown and Williams equally credit the University, and their involvement in the honors academy, as the driving force that gave them confidence to explore every possibility presented.
“Cheyney has a unique opportunity in the Keystone Honors Academy. The program’s structure allowed me to thoroughly focus on my academics and gaining valuable experiences that would help to ease my transition after graduation,” shared Brown. He also acknowledges HRTM Associate Professor & Chair, Dr. Ivan Turnipseed and Nicole Rayfield, Director of the Keystone Honors Academy as being influential mentors in preparing him for life after graduation.
“Cheyney helped me to find the value in myself. Prior to Cheyney, I was an average student; at Cheyney, I was a Keystone Honors Scholar. I believe the positive affirmations that started on day one, helped impress upon me to believe and understand that I was already successful; I just needed to learn a little more. Growing up I wanting to be a Doctor. Cheyney told me I would be a Doctor; there was never a doubt, so I learned not to doubt myself,” said Williams.
With her newfound self-awareness, Williams exited Cheyney and later pursued a master’s degree at Penn State University via the Bond-Hill Scholarship program. Under this program, eligible CU graduates are given full scholarships to continue their studies in professional and graduate programs.
“Cheyney prepared me academically for graduate studies and provided financial backing to pursue those studies. In addition, it shaped my desire to work in higher education, research and study HBCUs” said Williams, who obtained her Ed.D from Widener University, is currently a visiting scholar at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania.
In spite of the ongoing challenges that HBCUs tragically face, they produce some of the world’s most influential figures. And, it was here, at the nation’s first (HBCU), that both Brown and Dr. Williams, assembled the necessary skills and experiences needed to become the successful, well-rounded individuals they are today.
“To paraphrase Whitley Gilbert (a fictional character from the 1990’s sitcom, A Different World), “You can go to school any place, but no school will love you and teach you to love yourself, and know yourself like Cheyney,” said Williams.
The “Life After Graduation” segment will air within an episode of Infinite Opportunities, a show that highlights the happenings and range of enriching opportunities at Pennsylvania’s 14 State System universities, on Sunday, March 11 at 9:30 a.m. on PCN. Catch the current season, and past season episodes that spotlight Cheyney, and other PASSHE students, here.