By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
Participants at the second annual McKee Learning Lunch discussed the influence of student organization participation on African American male college retention.
The UTC McKee Chair of Excellence sponsors the Learning Lunches, designed to promote discussion and engagement with the Chattanooga community. Each lunch is developed around a theme – last year’s lunch focused on dyslexia while next year’s theme will focus on the effects of social media on students.
“The purpose of these lunches is to raise big questions and to discuss the wicked problems in our community. We don’t expect to come up with solutions in a day, but to engage and to raise even further questions,” said Dr. Jim Tucker, the McKee Chair of Excellence in Learning in the UTC School of Education.
This year, participants representing a wide range of civic connections, age groups, and interests participated in a learning encounter that applied interactive learning processes and reflection to foster community education. During the lunch, participants were invited to speak in an informal panel discussion, hold smaller discussion in groups, and reflect using writing prompts.
The speaker for the event was Dr. Jon Hershey, chair of the Humanities Division and professor of English at Georgia Highlands College (GHC). Hershey began the African-American and Minority Male Excellence (GHAME) program at GHC. The program is associated with the University System of Georgia African-American Male Initiative and Brother 2 Brother, a national organization that promotes the education and welfare of young black and Latino men.
Hershey began the program in 2008 with only seven students on one campus. The program now covers all five GHC campuses and has nearly 200 members. The overall retention rate at GHC is 47%, but retention within GHAME is up to 77%.
“You can’t go into a program like this unless you really feel the importance of it. You have to be there for these students 100%,” said Hershey. “This organization has grown leaders and they have done a great job. Minority students can become great students and great leaders when they feel comfortable and connected. We strive to create that support, that family feeling within the campus.”
During the lunch, participants discussed the importance of a college education, the need for a sense of greater community responsibility towards these at-risk students, and how family history and environment can factor into retention rates. One participant emphasized the need for the development of an “ethic of caring” within the community to create a network of support.
At the conclusion of the lunch, participants were invited to respond in writing to the questions, “What is the most important thing you learned today? And what is the primary question that remains unanswered as you leave today?” These answers will be reviewed by the McKee Chair of Excellence and further emphasize that the effect of these lunches does not end when the participants walk out the door.
“We hope the exchange of ideas during these lunches will be an integral part of developing a strong and prospering community,” Tucker said.