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White House Executive Kicks Off ASU HBCU Conference

Image associated with the White House Executive Kicks Off ASU HBCU Conference news item

Author: Timothy C. Ervin and Tina Joly

Release Date: Mar 05, 2012

A White House executive told attendees at ASU’s National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Conference that HBCUs are needed to help achieve a major goal set by the Obama administration.

John Silvanus Wilson Jr., the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, delivered the keynote address during the opening session of the second annual ASU National HBCU Entrepreneurship Conference on Monday, March 5.

Hundreds of professionals from higher education, private industry and government joined faculty, staff, students and alumni at the conference, held in the auditorium of ASU’s Ralph D. Abernathy Building.

The conference, which is being held to help build economic partnerships between HBCUs and their communities, is themed “Entrepreneurship: Transforming Education, Government and Industry.”

Wilson works with the nation’s 105 HBCUs, the White House, federal agencies and private and corporate sectors to ensure that HBCUs are a significant force in helping the nation reach an important goal set by President Barack Obama.

“We have been given a mandate, signed by the President in February 2010.  It is an executive order.  Part of our 2020 goal is to be number one in the world.  We need eight million more graduates in order to become number one; two million of them need to come from HBCUs,” Wilson said.

Wilson was introduced at the conference by Tuskegee University President Gilbert Rochon.

“It is fitting in this session that I introduce the individual that President Barack Obama has vested with the responsibility to oversee and provide support to HBCUs.  It’s an awesome responsibility because at this time we are under attack. There are those who feel that simply because of integration, there is no longer a need for HBCUs,” Rochon said.

Mayor Todd Strange welcomed the gathering and said the conference and its theme are important to the future of business and industry.

“This is a great opportunity to bring the leadership of industry and education together to improve the commerce not only here in Alabama, but in the entire United States,” Strange said. “The money that ASU spends and the creation of jobs are really meaningful to us, important and financially beneficial to us.”

ASU President Dr. William H. Harris said ASU continues to reach out to Montgomery and the world by making the University a world-ready institution of higher learning.

“The HBCU Conference is within keeping with what we have been doing over the past few years … We intend for our campus to be as good as any place else in the country to get an education,” Harris said. “We are not preparing students to compete with the millions of people in Alabama; we are preparing students to compete against the billions of people around the world.”

Wilson said ASU’s HBCU Conference is important because increased entrepreneurship is crucial to the future survival of HBCUs.

“Entrepreneurism is critical to the success of HBCUs, especially given the pressure that HBCUs are under. We need a lot more entrepreneurial thinking at the board level, in the presidents’ office and even among faculty and staff,” Wilson said.

Marjorie Lee Browne STEM Luncheon

Conference attendees enjoyed lunch together during the event’s annual Marjorie Lee Browne STEM Luncheon in the Dunn-Oliver Acadome. Dr. Cora B. Marrett, deputy director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), served as the keynote speaker and continued the conference’s morning theme.

She told the audience that HBCUs are fertile territory for entrepreneurship and innovation.

“This is our place in the legacy that exists,” Marrett said. “It is obvious in the activities that are underway, and I am proposing that it’s obvious what will be done in the future to advance even more entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Marrett said the NSF tries to enable inventiveness through support of research and education, especially through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

“We at the NSF do not ourselves conduct the research; we have to rely on the excellent ideas that are found in the communities we support,” she said. “And those are communities that are found in the realm of higher education. I’m here not just to congratulate people on the past and their great accomplishments, but to draw all the types of partnerships that we’re going to need if the Foundation is going to meet its goals and the nation is, in fact, going to make the advancements needed.”

ASU President William H. Harris said that Marrett reminds us all that innovation can and must continue.

“It’s refreshing to know that someone in Washington knows that the time for big science is not over – it’s just beginning,” Harris said.
The luncheon was named in honor of Marjorie Lee Browne, a mathematician and educator who earned her doctorate in mathematics in 1949, becoming one of the first African-American women to receive a doctoral degree in mathematics in the United States.

Financial Commitments

Several companies made financial presentations to ASU during Monday’s conference.

BP, the international oil and gas giant, presented President Harris with a check for $73,000 to establish the endowed BP scholarships. The scholarships will benefit students from coastal Alabama who are enrolled in STEM programs.

Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company, donated $7,500 to ASU to help fund STEM programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented ASU with a check for $15,000 to fund volunteer and internship programs for ASU students at the EPA.

The conference runs through March 7. For additional information on the second annual HBCU Conference, visit the conference website at or watch for updates on Twitter and Facebook.


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