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HBCU Alumni Talk Black Excellence on Campus and Beyond

Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Alumni at Discover share why they chose a historically Black institution, the impact their education had on their lives, and their advice for anyone considering attending. For more on how Discover supports Black excellence, explore our recent college commitment partnership with Paul Quinn College.

Nasiya Acklen
Senior Manager Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
HBCU Alumnus
Pronouns: She/Her

In high school I knew that I wanted to attend an HBCU because they had been so connected to my experience growing up in Nashville, TN with three prominent HBCUs located just a few streets over. The local university’s homecoming was an annual celebration of black culture, and I was in the parade every year of high school, being celebrated and cheered by the largely black crowd of students, families, dignitaries, and alumni.

I also saw the comradery of the HBCU experience when watching my grandfather with his college and football buddies. They maintained tight connections and supported the university with pride, even up to the day he passed away. I saw the same with my Aunt from her experience at an all-female HBCU in Atlanta. She was in a sorority and a member of the majorette team. I knew an HBCU would be a place to fully immerse myself in Black Excellence and the Black experience. It would be a place that I could be my authentic self in a psychologically safe and fun environment.

I chose my alma mater from the seven schools that I applied to because it was a highly regarded institution, and I was fortunate to receive a Presidential Scholarship. And at the urging of my mother, it was the furthest away from home, which gave me exposure to living outside of the deep South. When I visited the campus for the first time, I absolutely fell in love. The campus is gorgeous, and it is affectionately called “our home by the sea” because of the dorms on the waterfront. As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew in that moment that I had made the right decision.

Being at an HBCU truly broadened my exposure to unbounded possibilities and all types of people, which is probably true at any university. Yet it felt so special to break through the monolithic versions of Black people that are usually portrayed. My best friends from college and sorority sisters are from California, Washington DC, Charlotte, Maryland, and New York. I quickly recognized that we saw the world so differently from our unique backgrounds and upbringings. I’m connected to some of America’s best and brightest Black talent, which actually extends through to the entire HBCU network.

Attending an HBCU was life changing, and I am especially grateful for the experience. I would say to a prospective student that it’s a rare occasion to be in an extremely nurturing learning environment with people that look like you. You’ll be enveloped in a community that’s committed to your future growth and success. All parties involved, including your professors, understand and don’t shy away from conversations on what it takes to be successful as an African-American in corporate America. That mindset seeps into the academic programming, so take full advantage of this opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, use the time at an HBCU to explore who you really are while in an environment where you never have to question if your Blackness is a reason for any of it. Conversely, there is so much diversity within each of us and within the Black community, so test yourself to see Blackness outside of the limits of your lens. Lastly, expect to be challenged. When race comes off the table, consider any preconceived limits that you or others have put on your capabilities. Hopefully you will find renewed motivation to be the absolute best.

Maia Davis-Singleton
Director Client Support
HBCU Alumnus
Pronouns: She/Her

I grew up in the Midwest and had a number of “only” experiences. I’d been the only Black person in my neighborhood, the only one at my school. Given I had my share of experiences as being the only, it was important for me to find a college that I felt connected to.

I’m a product of a mother and father who are both HBCU graduates. A local sorority afforded me the opportunity to go on a HBCU college tour. We visited at least 10 HBCU’s across the country and that experience changed my life. By being surrounded by Black excellence, I felt a sense of belonging and pride that I hadn’t felt before.

I will forever cherish the relationships and extended family that I built. I can’t forget the warmness and sense of community the students and teachers extended to me. Those relationships have extended far beyond my college years. I’m still in touch with many of those friends today.

Michael Canady
VP, Global Operations & Client Services
HBCU Alumnus
Pronouns: He/Him

I chose to attend an HBCU consciously and deliberately. Candidly, I only ever had an interest in an HBCU education. I had a lot of options academically, but at my core, I wanted and needed a Black college experience.  I felt that an HBCU education would provide me with the best cultural and academic environment for my personal success.  In retrospect, the experience certainly allowed me the space to grow and learn about myself as a young Black student in ways that I may have been unable to at a traditional university.

Apart from the academic benefits of an HBCU education, by far the best benefits are the life-long friendships that I developed.  I’m thankful for the amazing relationships and people I encountered during my journey there.  My network and the relationships that I built along the way are invaluable.

Quite honestly, my HBCU journey exposed me to Black excellence on a level that I hadn’t yet personally experienced before.  A variety of successful people from my own culture mentored and educated me.  That experience had a meaningful impact on my own personal aspirations and ambitions.

I firmly believe that my college experience was a key contributor to who I became as an adult.  I certainly found my confidence and the experience was pivotal in helping shape my identity, point of view as a Black man and my overall outlook on life.  I definitely matured in a manner that I likely wouldn’t have been able to do had I chosen a different path for my undergraduate studies.

I had the opportunity to learn about the world from the perspective of my identity.  That experience was invaluable and certainly helped to shape my perspective on a variety of topics ranging from politics, social issues to diversity, equity and inclusion.


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