Dozens of industry professionals, educators and state officials came together in support of local students on Feb. 23 during the fourth annual Minority Male Initiative conference, held on Brookdale’s Lincroft campus.
The conference, co-hosted by Brookdale and the Monmouth/Ocean County Pan Hellenic Council and sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health, the FirstEnergy Foundation and Brookdale’s Educational Opportunity Fund program, featured a full day of workshops, networking opportunities and career-focused activities tailored specifically for local high school juniors, seniors and Brookdale students.
The conference, titled “Defining Your Career Pathway,” drew a capacity crowd of more than 200 students, requiring organizers to open the moveable walls in the Student Life Center’s Navesink Rooms and bring in additional chairs and tables to accomodate the crowd. In her opening remarks, New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks pointed out the symbolism in such an act.
“We had more people attending today than we anticipated, which of course is a blessing, but how did we respond?” asked Hendricks. “The response was to remove the barrier – to open up a wall. And today is all about breaking down barriers and opening up opportunities. So I want you to take advantage today of a program that is designed with you in mind.”
Established in 2015, the Minority Male Initiative is a collaborative effort designed to address widening achievement gaps among minority male students and provide increased support for local high school juniors, seniors and Brookdalians. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), white Americans aged 25 to 29 held bachelor’s degrees at more than double the rate of African Americans and nearly triple the rate of Hispanic Americans of the same age.
The conference began with a series of addresses by event organizer and Brookdale associate counseling Professor Fidel Wilson; interim Brookdale President David Stout; New Jersey Council of County College communications director Jacob Farbman; Pan Hellenic Council President Kenneth Morgan; representatives from the FirstEnergy Power Systems Institute program; and Stephanie James Wilson, executive director of the New Jersey Amistad Commission.
In her keynote address, Wilson told a story of her young son, who was tasked by a teacher with identifying African American pioneers in a variety of industries.
Attempting to stump his mom on a long car drive, Wilson’s son asked her if she could name an African American entrepreneur in the world of ice cream. She hesitated for a moment before remembering Augustus Jackson, the 1820’s White House chef who worked alongside first lady Dolly Madison and invented many of the standard ice cream recipes used today. Her son, Wilson said, was amazed.
“You have thousands and thousands of days ahead of you,” Wilson said. “How do you want to spend those days? You need to define yourselves so that you know how you want to spend them. Spend those days in the definition of who you are, of what you love, and representing yourself so that some day, some little boy in the back of a car can point to you. They are waiting for you.”
Following the remarks, the students broke off into one of five dedicated career workshops: STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); health care and health science; business and social science; communications media; and theater.
Each workshop was led by a variety of educators and industry professionals, including AT&T engineer Garfield Dunn, internist Dr. David Kountz, retired New Jersey State Police Lt. George Giles, Two River Theater general manager Alma Malabanan-McGrath, and Brookdale communications professor and digital media veteran Chad Anderson. Students were able to ask questions and learn about potential career paths while collecting business cards and making valuable connections in their field of study.
“It was really great,” said Royce Tucker, a Matawan Regional High School senior and an aspiring doctor. “We learned that there are a lot of opportunities out there for us as long as we stay motivated, stay focused and work hard. We can do what we want to do. We can help people and make a difference.
“The main benefit was being able to talk to people who have experience in the field,” Tucker added. “One of the workshop leaders is actually going to email us about an internship opportunity this summer, which I’m very excited about.”
Those sentiments were echoed by a wide range of attendees, who gathered at the end of the conference to share their experiences with classmates and colleagues. From Raritan High School junior Mohamed Elsherbiny, who learned about the importance of networking in the communications industry, to Monmouth Regional High School senior Khalil Walter, who learned about available scholarships and the value of surrounding oneself with like-minded people, the conference proved a valuable experience for all involved.
“It was very helpful,” said Brookdale business administration major Clarence Celius. “I learned a lot. I learned that there are so many mentors out there who can really help you moving forward. It motivated me to get a head start early, to start networking and making connections now.”
Participating high schools included: Asbury Park, Academy Charter, CPC High Point, Keansburg, Long Branch, Manalapan, Matawan Regional, Middletown North, Neptune, Raritan, Red Bank Regional, Lakewood, Monmouth Regional, and Lake Como Charter School. College students from Brookdale and Ramapo College participated as well.
All students were invited to apply for dedicated Brookdale scholarships sponsored by the Monmouth/Ocean County Pan Hellenic Council, the Brookdale Foundation, and Dr. Webster Trammel, retired vice president for development, community and governmental relations at Brookdale
Representatives from the FirstEnergy Foundation also presented Brookdale with a $1,000 check to fund future scholarship programs at the college.
View more photos from the 2018 Minority Male Initiative Conference here.