The Regional HBCU Summit on Retention came into existence in 1998, as the result of a vision by Dr. Nathanael Pollard, Jr., eighth President of Bowie State University. The nation was then, as it had been for years, wrestling with the issue of low graduation and retention rates, observed by many to be disproportionate among African American and other minority students. Dr. Pollard challenged the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs to develop a vehicle through which Bowie State University and other HBCUs, particularly in the State of Maryland, and the region could develop, share, and implement creative solutions to the problem of student attrition. In his words, “For us to do any less will have enormous negative consequences for the future of a generation expected to accept the responsibilities of leadership in the new millennium.”
The challenge was accepted in 1997. Dr. Virginia Guilford, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs; Dr. Anne L. Gaskins-Nedd, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the University College of Excellence; Dr. Joan S. Langdon, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Nagi Wakim, Associate Provost and Director of the Model Institutions for Excellence Initiative (MIE) met and devised a plan. Under the leadership of Dr. Guilford, the plan was implemented, and the HBCUs in the State and the region as well as other organizations concerned about student retention were invited to become sponsors of the Summit.
The Model Institutions for Excellence Initiative became the Summit’s first non-institutional sponsor. As the umbrella for the MIE Initiative, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was a strong supporter of the Summit. The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) was the first institution to join Bowie State University as a sponsor. Dr. James R. Preer, Assistant Provost for Academic Programs and Research, and Dr. Beverly J. Anderson, Acting Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, were the primary UDC representatives. Shortly after UDC accepted the challenge, The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) and Coppin State College (CSC) became sponsors. Dr. Diann Showell, Director of Academic Support Services and General Studies; Dr. Susan Harrington, Assistant Professor of English; and Dr. Ron Forsythe, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, were the principal representatives for UMES. Ms. Tendai Johnson, Director of Institutional Research, and Dr. Joyce Williams, Registrar, represented CSC.
The Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) became the second non-institutional sponsor. Dr. Pamela G. Arrington, Senior Staff Specialist, served as the MHEC representative. Morgan State University, the fifth institution to come on board, was represented by Dr. Jay Carrington Chunn, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Dr. Jacqueline Martin, Director, Student Support Services.
The chief executive officers for each sponsoring body have been invited to participate in the Summit each year. The 1998 HBCU Presidents were Dr. Nathanael Pollard, Jr., Bowie State University; Dr. Calvin W. Burnett, Coppin State College; Dr. Earl S. Richardson, Morgan State University; Dr. Julius F. Nimmons, Jr., University of the District of Columbia; and Dr. Dolores R. Spikes, University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The Secretary of the Maryland Higher Education Commission was Dr. Patricia S. Florestano, who attended the Summit each year until her retirement from the Commission in 2001. Dr. Nimmons has the distinction of attending the Summit during each of the years of his tenure as President of the University of the District of Columbia.
Dr. Virginia Guilford was the Founding Chair of the Regional HBCU Summit on Retention. Under her guidance, a team primarily composed of the institutional representatives articulated the purpose of the Summit and developed its overarching theme, “Improving Retention at HBCUs in the New Millennium.”
The original purpose of the Summit was “to provide opportunities for representatives of all groups concerned about the persistence of African American students in higher education to come together to (1) address the problem of retention of African American students in colleges and universities; (2) celebrate successful retention programs in higher education; and (3) propose action plans to increase the persistence of African American students in higher education.” In more recent years, the purpose has been broadened to include other minority students.
Each year, the Summit has a different sub-theme that focuses the retention discussion for that year. The theme for the 1998 Summit was “Improving Retention at HBCUs in the New Millennium: Campus Responsibilities and Response.” This year’s sub-theme is “Students, Faculty, and Administrators Overcoming Financial Challenges to Promote Student Success.”
The Summit site has been Ocean City, Maryland, since 1998. During the planning phase for the first Summit, Dr. Diann Showell suggested that the Steering Committee consider Ocean City, a location that has served the Summit well.
During the next eight years, several other institutions became sponsors. By 2001, Central State University (CSU), Delaware State University (DSU), and Virginia State University (VSU) had become sponsors. Benedict College (BC) and Norfolk State University (NSU) followed in 2002, the University System of Maryland (USM) in 2004, and Howard University (HU) and Bethune-Cookman College (B-CC) in 2005. The principal institutional representatives during the initial year of each sponsor’s association with the Summit were Dr. Paul Cook, Assistant Professor of History and Director of Faculty Development, and Mr. Lee Ingham, Assistant Professor, Humanities Department, and Director of the First Year Experience (CSU); Dr. Dorothy Talbert-Hersi, Assistant Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services and Acting Director for the Wilmington Campus (DSU); Dr. Valery Y.R. Bates-Brown, Director of the Academic Support Center (VSU); Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness, Director of the Student Leadership Development Program (BC); Dr. Mildred K. Fuller, Director of Student Support Services (NSU); Mr. Michael Bowden, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (USM); Dr. William Gordon, Director, Washington-Baltimore Hampton Roads—Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program (HU); and Dr. Ray A. Shackleford, Vice President for Administration and Finance (B-CC).
The Regional HBCU Summit on Retention has had seven chairs and three pairs of co-chairs: Dr. Virginia Guilford, Dr. Diann Showell-Cherry, Dr. Jay Carrington Chunn, Ms. Tendai Johnson, Dr. Ernesta Pendleton Williams, co-chairs Dr. Joan S. Langdon and Dr. Anne Gaskins-Nedd, chair Dr. John T. Wolfe, Jr., co-chairs Dr. John A. Wheatland and Dr. Tiffany B. Mfume, co-chairs Dr. Thomas James and Ms. Juanita D. Gilliam, and chair Dr. Joan S. Langdon. With their leadership and guidance, the Summit has flourished in every way. Moreover, the Summit has benefited significantly from the ideas, insights, and strategies shared by more than thirty-six hundred students, faculty, staff, and administrators during the Summit’s “conversations” about improving the retention rate for African American and other minority students.