Select a name from the list below to revisit past interviews with students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
Professor JaQuon Epps
Prince George’s Community College alumnus Amandji Goito defines himself as a “nurturer.” Although he fills a number of distinct roles, including teacher, coach, tutor, and entrepreneur, he notes that all of his responsibilities are unified under the role of “nurturer,” which he admits is not a label you typically find attached to a Black male. Amandji’s non-traditional story as a first-generation student serves as a reminder of how one’s journey can be key to finding yourself and reaching your potential – encouraging audiences that their narratives do not have to fit into neat boxes in order to be of value. Learn more about Amandji’s story below.
How would you describe your role?
My many hats actually fall under one role. I am a nurturer. I understand that this is outside of the status quo – the idea of a nurturer – since I am a man and a Black man at that. Society does not typically expect people like me to be nurturers. Early on, I wanted to be in the spotlight. Over time, I learned that it’s more important to nourish and cultivate others based on your example instead of only focusing on being that person yourself.
I’m a teacher, coach, tutor, and entrepreneur. My work allows me to be my best self consistently, and I use techniques I learn in each position across industries. In coaching, for instance, I use techniques from the classroom. I’m an English teacher at Dora Kennedy French Immersion School. I enjoy giving back to programs like Upward Bound that supported me as a student at Prince George’s Community College. I started a non-profit – the Biomotor Institute – with my fiancée, who I met on the track team at Prince George’s Community College. The Biomotor Institute is a nonprofit organization with the mission to prepare student-athletes for the demands and expectations of an athletic scholarship. It specializes in training track and has expanded to include speed and power sports. There are scientific rules behind skills like sprinting fast, jumping high, and throwing far that we instill in our athletes.
What attracted you to Prince George’s Community College?
When I graduated from high school, I was in a space where I wasn’t sure whether college was for me. I had difficulties in school. It wasn’t that I was dumb – I just wasn’t in touch with how I learned. First, I went to Lincoln Tech, thinking I would work as a mechanic for the rest of my life, but my mom wanted me to go to college. I graduated from Lincoln Tech and have my certificate if I ever want to use it. When I started to think about college, I knew I would have to be in a sport. I joined track and field and found my passion. In 2012, I became a student at Prince George’s Community College. I majored in philosophy and later changed to education. Although I didn’t graduate from PGCC, it’s where I found myself and my path. I transferred to Bowie State University. First, it was a matter of money, and then a matter of time due to NCAA requirements.
How did the TRiO Program at Prince George’s Community College support you?
Mr. Korey Dean, project director of TRiO Upward Bound, was a big support. Even if you don’t see the potential you have, he’s the type of person who pushes you to find it. I started with TRiO as a work study student. In 2014, I became a tutor. The tutor role forced me to become a better person. I realized that if someone assigns me a responsibility, that person believes I have what it takes to do it. This role helped me refine my study habits in order to be ready to attend Bowie State University.
What inspired you to become a teacher? What attracted you to Dora Kennedy French Immersion School?
To be completely honest, I wanted to coach collegiate athletes, and I was capable of doing so, but no one would hire me. I needed a job, so I applied to different schools, including Dora Kennedy. I actually attended the school growing up, and my teachers were still there. Fortunately, they were missing an English teacher. I was evaluated and allowed to join the staff as a substitute teacher. The parents and kids loved me, so the school brought me on as a conditional teacher. I am finishing up my coursework to become a licensed teacher.
How have students at Dora Kennedy French Immersion School been adapting to virtual learning?
Terribly to be honest. Younger children need a structured environment to learn. I think back to how I would have behaved as a child in a similar situation. Often, kids hate school, but they love learning.
Virtual learning has thrown many students into an unstructured environment in which we cannot expect them to be responsible – like we would expect an adult to be. At the end of the day as a teacher, you do not engage with students beyond the classroom, and all of the distractions of their home environment have an impact. I’ve had students say they need to get off of the computer during instruction to “help mom with something.” The kids are doing their best despite the circumstances.
It’s also interesting to study the structure of schools in other countries. While I was a student at Prince George’s Community College, I completed a research project on schools in Finland. It’s common for them to have up to four teachers in every classroom, where each student receives individualized attention and no one gets left behind. Schools in the United States run classrooms with only one to two teachers, which was already challenging with in-person learning. Virtual learning introduces yet another variable. If the variables are not managed well, we will see two groups emerging: one group that adapts and another group that is left behind.
Talk about the importance of the next generation being open to and understanding of the world around them.
It’s not really that complex. The next generation will inherit the world. They need to understand global crises like pollution, classism, and racism. Everything that is bad that is manmade has the ability to be “unmade.” The next generation needs to be willing to undo things that are wrong – even if these things are benefitting them in some way.
These are uncertain times, and Black males are clearly a target in this divisive national climate. How do you explore this reality in the classroom?
Growing up, my mom made sure we knew why everything is how it is and how it came to be. There are so many questions and conversations about the status of Black people in this country, and they all center around one issue: racism. My mother made sure we understood what racism is. We learned about Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and many other freedom fighters – and understood the war being fought against Black people. We learned about intersectionality – that societal problems are more complex than black and white.
In the classroom, I want my students to understand that even two Black people can have different experiences. I want them to know who they are and where they are in addition to being in tune with the perception of others. I teach three 6th-grade classes and one 7th-grade class. I asked my students on-the-spot to describe how they would perceive me if they saw me on the street. Many of my students responded with terms like “gangster” or “homeless.” I did have a student who said “athlete,” which was accurate. Before they got to know me, some students shared they thought I was an intimidating force. Clearly, a number of these labels are attached to stereotypes about Black people that our society indoctrinates us with from an early age.
Every generation has a responsibility to change the narrative as much as we can. It’s not up to anyone else to be comfortable with who you are. As long as you love yourself, and know who you were meant to be, that’s what matters. If my students don’t learn anything else, I want them to know that.
How do you empower Black males and other underrepresented students?
In terms of Black male identity, I always want my Black male students to understand that we need to do better. A general enchantment surrounding racism is becoming more prevalent, and hypermasculinity is a sickness and disease in our community. My goal is to make sure young Black males do not adopt this perspective. I’m reminded of some of the works of bell hooks. We need to commit ourselves to changing this mindset and behavior. And I definitely understand it because I played into hypermasculinity at some point. I had a misguided idea of who a man was supposed to be. Now, I make it my point to encourage Black men not to tolerate being disrespectful toward women – by referring to them as “females,” for example. It’s always a learning and growing process, and I still have to correct myself daily sometimes, but I want my students to start this process earlier so they can do even better.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for first-generation students and other underrepresented students who may be struggling to find their way?
“Don't follow the crowd.” My mom always used to say this to me and my sister while we were growing up. (Translation: Ne suis pas la foule.)
Professor Andreia Douglas
After a distinguished career with NPR and the Washington Post, Associate Professor of Art Andreia Douglas, who has been associated with Prince George’s Community College since 1995, joined the College as a full-time professor in 2015. In the following interview, Professor Douglas takes readers behind the scenes in her studio, revealing the one tool she cannot live without, and shares her experiences teaching graphic design during COVID-19. Read to learn about the signature project her students are working on that brings together artists from her intro and advanced courses in honor of Black history.
What attracted you to PGCC after a distinguished career in the corporate world?
I was a full-time graphic artist working for NPR and later the Washington Post. I saw that there was a disconnect between training and real-world experience in the entry-level graphic artists. I felt I had something to offer the upcoming generation of graphic designers and could help prepare them to enter or advance in a career in the graphic arts.
How has it been teaching graphic design in the virtual environment? How have your students been responding?
Teaching studio courses in graphic design during the COVID-19 quarantine has been a challenge, especially since I am not able to be present in the studio-classroom with my students. We do not have ready access to the large format printers, computer hardware and software, and other graphics supplies and materials offered in the PGCC computer labs. I have tried to keep our class projects and learning environment interesting and exciting. For the most part, my students have risen to the challenge and have been producing amazing art. For example, quite a few of my students participated in the Fall 2020 Virtual Student Art Exhibition, Through the Looking Glass. Out of 166 entries in various categories, my students took home awards in several of the 11 art categories, including first, second, and third place in one of the categories.
What’s something you believed earlier in your career as an artist but think about differently now?
Early on, I thought you had to have certain skills in order to be an artist. While that is true on some levels, I now think that being an artist is internal. If you are someone who is always thinking about art and creating art, then you are an artist.
Please complete the phrase, “My Black History is…”
My Black History is knowing where I came from, my family history, and the history of my community. It is a source of pride and inspiration for me. Knowing the contributions of those who have gone before me helps me to define my purpose in the grand equation of life.
What are some creative projects your students are currently working on?
One of my signature projects – African American Firsts Commemorative Stamps booklet – incorporates diversity into the curriculum for Introduction to Computer Graphics. This course is the gateway course for the VisCom program in the Humanities/Art department. A colleague, Barbara Parks, and I guide our students through the process of designing and implementing page design and layout for this publication. Students in my advanced design courses, 2-D and 3-D Design, compete to design the cover and other materials in the book. The process of preparing and publishing the booklet instills a greater knowledge of and appreciation for the many historic and recent contributions of African Americans to the national narrative.
The project requires students to design and develop a book page honoring an African American who is the first to contribute in a specific life category. The student must research the achievements of their subject and locate supporting photographic images. They then write the copy, design, and illustrate a stamp honoring the individual's contribution and manipulate the photographic images. Finally, the student assembles the components into a template for a book page. All pages are then incorporated into the booklet. My colleague and I prepare the booklet for publishing in a limited edition.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in the studio?
All art starts with the idea and the development of the concept. Before doing anything else, you must get that down on paper. So, I would say that my sketch pad is my most important tool. Beyond that, I develop my concepts on my Macintosh computer, so I would say this is a necessity in my studio.
Who are your biggest influences?
As a graphic designer, sculptress, and children’s book author/illustrator, I am inspired by many graphic and fine artists, including: Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden and sculptor Alexander Calder;
Children’s book author and illustrator Edythe A. Laws, author of Clem Clam : a story of the happy Clam family (1950); and jazz violinist Noel Pointer.
Professor Stephanie Dashiell
English Professor and Academic Coordinator for Developmental English Stephanie Dashiell is an innovator. After securing a CFI grant, she worked to incorporate virtual reality into her teaching, establishing a cutting-edge intersection between the humanities and STEM. Recently, Professor Dashiell was invited to serve as the keynote speaker for Virginia Tech’s virtual 2021 Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy – after Virginia Tech voted her workshop a year prior as the best session of the conference. Learn more about Professor Dashiell in the interview below.
Tell us about your upcoming keynote at Virginia Tech’s virtual 2021 Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy.
My dean, Nicole Currier, encouraged me to present at the 2020 Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy at Virginia Tech, and I’m so glad I did. The title of my presentation was, “3 Tools to Enhance Your Course,” and I focused on Pear Deck, the BAND app, and Loom Screen Recorder. I purposely chose easy, medium, and advanced resources to reflect the different levels of comfort faculty have with technology. I stayed in contact with many of the participants after the conference (thanks to the BAND app), and a lot of them used these resources when institutions had to switch to remote learning due to the pandemic. Almost a year later, Virginia Tech contacted me and said my workshop was voted the best workshop of the conference, and they asked me to be the keynote speaker for 2021. I was so honored!
What inspired you to be an educator?
As a student in the Prince George’s County Public School system, I saw a need for educators who were truly invested in the students. I graduated from Largo High School, and I was with that population of students who had a lot of teachers leave to go teach in Virginia or Montgomery County. I understand that teaching is a difficult craft because of all of the elements teachers have to deal with outside of the classroom. However, I found myself thinking, “Why didn’t the good teachers stay for a student like me? Aren’t I worth it?” Thankfully, there were three great teachers at the school who changed my life forever…the band and choir teachers. Those three people – Mr. Wright, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Fitzhugh – impacted my life in such a positive way. From that point, I understood what I needed to do. Every student deserves teachers like these, so I carry the torch. I have a passion for teaching in Prince George’s County. I’ve had chances to teach elsewhere, but I don’t want to. Our students are bright. Our students are special. Our students are resilient and know how to persevere. They deserve everything other American students receive.
What innovative practices have you incorporated into your teaching?
In a traditional semester, I love trying new things as it relates to technology in the classroom. It’s amazing to me how quickly the industry evolves. When I started teaching at PGCC in 2013, the popular tool was Twitter in the classroom. Now, most students do not have a Twitter account, so that technology is null and void. I have had a lot of recent success with my final exam escape room, and various virtual reality assignments. Many people tease the new generation of being narcissistic. Although I don’t agree, I decided to play off of that concept. I applied for a CFI grant and used the money to purchase a 360-degree camera and a class set of virtual reality goggles.
For my final exam escape room, I “lock” the students in the classroom, and they have 90 minutes to break free. There are clues all over the room, and they have to work together to solve the mystery and find the hidden key. This activity includes secret code boxes, invisible ink, black flashlights, walkie talkies, and more. The students also have to annotate an article and write a short essay in order to escape the room. Since switching to remote learning, I have relied heavily on Pear Deck. The students love it because it brings a face-to-face feeling to the online classroom. This semester, I hope to transfer all of my lectures into Pear Deck slides.
What's something most people don't know about you?
I am an open book, so I am sure people know a lot about me. They know I sing and play multiple instruments. They know I’m a mom of two beautiful children. They know I’m married to a wonderful musician. One thing they might be surprised about is the fact that I am actually very shy in real life. If you see me in the classroom, you might find me rapping, dancing, or putting on a full Broadway scene because I’m so silly. However, there is a level of comfort I have with my students. In meetings, I’m normally tucked away in a corner somewhere grading papers because I actually do not like a lot of attention on me. I compare myself to Beyoncé in a sense. She expressed that she is very shy, and in order to perform, she has to transform into her alter ego…Sasha Fierce. Well, my alter ego’s name is Shelley. I have no idea why I chose that name, but Shelley it is.
What’s your favorite book and why?
I love anything and everything written by August Wilson. I am fascinated by his work because I think he does a wonderful job of painting the picture of what life was like for Blacks during a certain time in American history. We are not taught much Black history in school, which is why I decided to attend a Historically Black College/University as an undergraduate. At Howard University, my professor, Dr. Sandra Shannon, studied and wrote several books about August Wilson’s work. That is where my love for him grew. It is so depressing only hearing stories of slavery and Jim Crow. I know there is so much more to our story, and August Wilson shows that.
Prince George’s Community College alumna Vanessa Flage is an unapologetic free spirit and creative force. After graduating from PGCC’s mass communications program in spring 2020 at the height of COVID-19, she transferred to Towson University to major in electronic media and film. Vanessa credits PGCC professor Dr. Sherelle Williams for inspiring her to pursue a career in the arts. In the following interview, Vanessa reflects on her PGCC experience and lessons learned along the way. Read to find out how she’s taking an active role in giving back to the community during the pandemic.
What surprised you most about being a student at Prince George’s Community College?
The professors. College is so much different than high school. My professors at PGCC made me fall in love with learning. I really got to know them and learn about their life stories. It can be hard to learn in general, so this approach was very helpful for me. I also met a lot of awesome friends, and we’re still in touch. I had a period of adjustment during my first year where I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but I grew to love PGCC. I could have stayed forever.
Who are your biggest influences?
My parents are my biggest influences, then my grandparents and my aunt. My parents both immigrated to the United States – my mom from the Philippines and my Dad from Chile. It’s really cool how they met from opposite sides of the world and married. My Dad came to the United States to get a better education. When he arrived, he had no idea how to speak English, but he worked hard and eventually obtained a college degree. That’s such an inspiring story. My grandpa on my mom’s side was in the Navy. My aunt is also a big influence because she reminds me of the importance of taking risks and trying new things. She lives outside the box, and she’s still found great success. I want to be just like her.
Tell us about a recent creative project you’re proud of.
Recently, I produced a promo video for a local dance studio where I used to take classes as a child. The studio is a small business, and it took a hard hit during COVID-19. The owner reached out to me to see if we could partner to create a video to help with the studio’s publicity. This collaboration was an opportunity for me to give back during an especially challenging time.
Check out the video here and follow Vanessa on Instagram @makeup.by.ness.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Why rush? Take your time and enjoy the ride. I feel like college students are under so much pressure to try to finish that they forget to enjoy the journey as they make progress. I was watching a video the other day that suggested your 20s should be a time to explore and have fun. By your 30s, you should have developed a clearer sense of what you really want to do. My aunt is the person I go to the most for career advice. She’s traveled everywhere, lived in different places, and even worked outside of her degree field multiple times. Her story gives me comfort that there is still value in exploring and not having everything figured out. Film is a good major for that, too. Probably a lot of us could use this advice of living in the moment while we plan for the future.
Dr. Iyelli Ichile
Fresh into her new full-time role at Prince George’s Community College, Dr. Iyelli Ichile, professor of history in the Department of Social Sciences and director of the College’s African American Studies Institute, is already raising the bar. Recently, she secured a Maryland Humanities Council grant that provides a wealth of resources in support of Black studies at the College. Dr. Ichile is a multi-talented artist who is currently studying the way art and artifacts are arranged in space through what her friends have dubbed “African feng shui.” In the following interview, Dr. Ichile discusses her inspiration for becoming an educator, the history of Black and indigenous people, holiday traditions, and more. Read to find out why she believes the concept of “identity” is actually a technology.
What inspired you to be an educator?
It goes way back. My mother is an educator at heart who probably missed her calling. My sisters and I have been extremely bookish from a young age, and each of us has become an educator in some form. In terms of the subject matter – Black studies – growing up, I found it frustrating the things we didn’t know about ourselves as African Americans. I had a moment of reckoning when I joined a traditional African drum and dance ensemble at Howard University during my doctoral program. I questioned why I wasn’t familiar with my own culture. Naturally, I felt compelled to teach Black folks about who we are. Black people are the most mythologized people on the planet, and we have become divorced from who we are, which is such a tragedy. That is why I teach. To reconnect Black people to their roots.
What do “identity” and “belonging” mean to you as an individual of African descent?
“Identity” is a way of defining yourself in relationship to other people. One of my former doctoral students at Temple University, Dr. Jennifer Williams, talked about “identity” as a technology, an exploration of Afrofuturism. “Identity” is a technology that people use to find belonging, safety, security, and whatever power they seek. Identity evolves – you can hack it and you can change it. Think about how Sojourner Truth and, even today, Janelle Monáe use identity. You often hear about identity politics. People are always wielding identity whether or not they admit it. “Belonging” is a human universal that we naturally seek, but it’s elusive. So many aspects of our society attempt to deconstruct “belonging.” Many of us feel isolation and a sense of being untethered. Sometimes we attempt to replace our sense of belonging with objects, which creates a false sense of belonging. COVID-19 makes finding “belonging” a challenge in unique ways. I hope we are trying to cultivate a greater sense of belonging with the people we are sheltered in place with.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Based on my area of studies, people assume that I’m an artsy, go-with-the-flow, free spirit hippie. Some people even assume that I only wear earth tones, relegating me to an “Afrocentric Earth Mother” stereotype. African cultures, as a whole, are also sometimes thought of as trite, undisciplined, and impulsive, even. I have found them to be highly complex, scientific, intentional and structured, even as they allow room for creativity to flourish. That’s how I am, too. Inside and outside of the classroom, everything I do and say is intentional, and nothing is happenstance. My mom worked for an airline and was a world traveler, so my perspective was never small. I can appreciate cultural and artistic traditions from a wide range of societies. You cannot just study one area and think you understand. You need to be able to study in the context of other things.
November is National Native American Heritage Month. How do the histories of people of color in the United States and across the world compare?
Coalition building is important. There are so many commonalities and shared struggles, and Western colonization is not unique to Black people. The struggles of indigenous people, the first people of this land, against colonization and genocide is ongoing. The African American relationship with indigenous people has been both collaborative and contentious. We have committed atrocities against each other. This is part of the Western playbook: to turn indigenous people against each other. Right now, we’re grappling with cultural erasure, exploitation, and even COVID-19. Indigenous communities around the world are impacted by the pandemic in an acute way. Think back to recent events like the Flint, Michigan water crisis. We need to remember that our outcomes influence each other, and we have a common oppressor.
Around the holidays, I make sure to not only discuss the history of Thanksgiving in my classes, but also the National Day of Mourning. When I cover Columbus Day, I also incorporate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We need to stand in solidarity. At the same time as I am enjoying eating the food of Thanksgiving, I can simultaneously mourn with indigenous communities. It’s important to be clear that the history we are learning is the history of First Nations people, as told by them, on this day. In my family, while we eat our holiday meal, we tune into radio and television programming commemorating our history, pour libations to the ancestors, and sing songs from our tradition. It’s a chance to have a family cultural learning experience.
Can you share a few highlights from the African American Studies Institute’s upcoming programming?
Shortly after my appointment as director of the African American Studies Institute this spring, I secured a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, the first grant Prince George’s Community College has received from the organization in over 10 years. The funding allowed us to launch the Black Culture Matters lecture series.
Next up in the series on Friday, November 20, Dr. Jared Ball, will discuss music, media, and memory. The event is already sold out. The energy around the four events we’ve produced so far has been amazing and surprising. Each event had a 1,000-person registration capacity, and each one exceeded that threshold. Participants have extended far beyond Prince George’s County to Sydney, Australia, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and more. Our programming has been added to diversity and inclusion calendars at colleges and universities across the country.
Next spring, we’re holding a student symposium so that our students can showcase their work and also collaborating with other departments. I really want to amplify the voices of scholars dedicated to the Black experience on all levels. The African American Studies Institute has been around since approximately 2008. My goal is to take it to the next level with the support of all of our partners.
Prince George’s Community College student Henry LazoContreras is a second-year psychology major. After planning to pursue a career as a math teacher, he was drawn to child psychology based on the growing need in our society for professionals who support mental, emotional, and social development. “Essentially, they want children to grow into better people, and I look forward to being a part of that,” he says.
In the following interview, Henry shares his thoughts on virtual learning, racial equity, and the connection between psychology and art. Read to find out what has surprised him most about being a student at Prince George’s Community College.
1. Where is home for you?
I define home as the place where my family and friends are, so Maryland is home.
2. What is your classification and major?
I’m a second-year psychology major, and I plan to pursue a career in child psychology. I admire how child psychologists provide real help with emotional, mental, and social issues. Essentially, they want children to grow into better people, and I look forward to being a part of that.
3. What professional field did you dream of pursuing as a child? Does it differ from your current field of study?
When I was young, I wanted to be a math teacher. I was always really good at math, and took advanced math courses throughout school. For me, math is like solving a puzzle. In high school, I took a particular psychology class that inspired me to pursue a career in the field. I would say that both professions – math teacher and child psychologist – have a common goal of supporting youth.
4. What attracted you to Prince George’s Community College?
I was attracted to the College for several reasons. First, the cost of tuition is more affordable than other schools. The location is also close to where I currently live. PGCC’s scholarship programs were the third reason I chose to come here. I was a dual-enrollment student, and I’m a Promise Scholar, which means I receive scholarships to help pay for my classes.
5. What has surprised you most about being a student at Prince George’s Community College?
I think the atmosphere and culture of the College surprised me most. Before coming here, I didn’t think the College would offer much beyond classes. I discovered that couldn’t be further from the truth. Events, clubs and programs, tutoring services, scholarships – so many opportunities for students to be engaged.
6. What inspires you?
My mom inspires me. Ever since I was young, she has sacrificed to work hard every single day to provide me with the resources I need to be successful. She’s been there for me through my ups and downs, and taught me to always give it my best despite the circumstances.
7. We’re only about two weeks into the semester, but how are you adapting to virtual learning? What have been the biggest challenges?
So far, I’m adapting very well. I’ve taken a few online classes in the past, so that helps. Online classes are different than attending in person though. With in-person classes, you get lectures from the professor and can ask questions directly in the same physical space. With virtual learning, you have to do a lot of it by yourself. That’s probably the biggest challenge – trying to learn course material on my own.
I’ve learned to take advantage of resources like virtual office hours, online resources provided by professors, and also ensure I have detailed notes and put in the time to prepare.
8. How have you been staying engaged in your free time during this period of social distancing?
Whenever I’m not studying, I stay in touch with my friends through text and video calls. I’ve been spending more time with my baby brother, who’s one year old, and helping my mother with household chores, which has given me greater respect for what she does. My family also takes trips sometimes – practicing social distancing, of course – where we can relax and get relief from stress.
9. How have you and your peers been responding to the current climate with increased instances of racial inequity and tension?
We’re all upset about it. We find it problematic that even to this day – in 2020 – there are still racial inequities. It’s hard to believe that not everyone shares the idea that people should be treated equally. I believe in treating people as human beings regardless of their race or background. It seems like common sense.
10. What advice do you have for students who are struggling to adjust this semester?
Don’t give up because you’re not alone. Always remember there are people who can help you overcome – family, professors, friends.
11. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I like to draw cartoon characters. Most of my friends don’t even know that. I don’t necessarily consider myself an artist, but drawing has been a hobby since childhood. Being creative helps me to relax.
I see a connection between art and psychology. Drawing is an expression of emotions. In child psychology, sometimes children are asked to draw a picture or paint. This art can help indicate what a child may be feeling inside.
12. What are your plans for after you graduate?
I plan to transfer to a four-year university, possibly University of Maryland Global Campus or College Park, to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After that, I would like to pursue a master’s and PhD so I can apply for a Maryland license to practice psychology in a clinical setting.
Dr. Clover Baker-Brown
Dr. Baker-Brown, a long-time Prince George’s Community College faculty member, had no idea she would stay at the College for so long. This semester, she’s teaching five classes. She credits her longevity to a love for students and passion for leaving the next generation better than she found it.
In the following interview, Dr. Baker-Brown shares her insights on virtual learning, social justice, and much more. Read to find out the thing she says 95% of people don’t know about her.
1. Where is home for you?
Silver Spring, Maryland, is home. My ride to campus is about 45 minutes – without traffic. Add to that a Starbucks stop and an additional 10 minutes.
2. What is your role at PGCC? How long have you been with the College?
I’ve been at the College for 16 years. I had no idea I would be here this long, neither did anyone at that time. I resigned one month after I joined the College. My Dean and Chair then both convinced me to stay.
My major roles at the College include serving as past president of the Faculty Senate; member on the Executive Council of the College-wide Forum; Co-Chair of the Academic Council; Academic Coordinator for the Communication and Public Relations Program; and Director of the International Student Center. And, of course, my favorite role – communications professor.
3. How are you and your students adapting to virtual learning?
Crisis shows us what we are made of. Even though the semester just started, the College started adapting to virtual learning in March. I am very impressed with how quickly the College was able to make the switch, with very little visible disruptions. But our students are the true rock stars. They are engaged, possibly even more than in the past. I used to poll my students every semester, asking for their course type preference – online or in-person. The response was an overwhelming desire for in-person, face-face classes. Most students did not even realize they could or would thrive with virtual learning. This is not to say that some students do not have challenges, far from it. But overall, they are doing much better than many of us expected. I do not have the data on how our international students are adjusting, but I will have that information soon.
I would be remiss if I did not recognize our faculty, many of whom never taught online before. Our faculty have done a fantastic job of the mammoth task of making the shift, within a very short space of time. They have done very well with learning the technology! TLSS and the Provost, Dr. Railey, have done an excellent job, getting our faculty the requisite technology training, despite some of the expected challenges, to shore up our expertise. Our faculty are superstars!
4. What have been the biggest challenges adjusting to virtual learning for you?
I miss the students. I miss them coming in my office and asking questions. I miss them walking through the halls of the theater department, singing and prancing, full of life and promise. As a communications professional, I need to see people’s faces and pick up on cues, and I do not have that access in a virtual environment. I was also worried about how our students who are financially challenged were managing. I was particularly concerned about students who were using their phones to access and submit their work. But again, the College stepped up and provided laptops for many students in need. By the way, moving forward, I think the College should make providing laptops to all students an imperative.
Overall, I was not sure how I would make the mental and emotional shift to working completely in a virtual space. But now, five and a half months later, I am beginning to enjoy it in many ways. I am way more productive.
5. What are your thoughts on equity and access in this era of learning? Recently, CNN published an article on the increase in pandemic pods for K-12 education and the associated impact. What are your thoughts?
I think this pandemic has blown the covers completely off and exposed the true state of the disparities that students of color face. As an institution, we must shift our thinking about equity. We must move away from asking for diversity and inclusion and move to focusing on improving outcomes for students of color. When we improve our student outcomes, we improve equity and access.
The concept of pandemic pods is simple and seemingly benign: small classes and focused teachers. So, I have no problems with it, but the net impact will be the same for students of color without the resources to take advantage of this style of teaching and learning. Early childhood education is critical to academic success. The data is overwhelming when it comes to the relationship between the quality of early childhood preparation and the quality of academic performance in the future.
The approach to addressing equity and access requires boldness and courage, as these conversations can often be difficult and messy. At our institution, when we think of equity and access, we must take an inventory of ourselves. We need to examine our implicit biases – from thinking about the assignments we give to students on day one of a new semester – to the questions we ask interviewees when we are recruiting faculty and staff. We need to examine how we configure search committees. We need to look at who is in our classrooms, the curriculum, retention and graduation and rates. We should be asking ourselves: What services do we provide to help students become more prepared and engaged citizens? Do we encourage our students to vote and exercise their rights?
If we are not asking and answering these types of questions, we are not doing our job well. Most importantly, for any academic institution to be successful in addressing equity and access issues, there must be an institutional commitment that is firmly buffered by the requisite financial support to make it successful.
6. Racial tensions are heightened with the increased violence against black men and people of color. What role, if any, does higher education play in social justice?
The uptick in violence against black men and women is frightening and unacceptable. Higher education is a public good. Therefore, higher educational institutions have a major responsibility to play when it comes to advocating for social justice. We cannot be observers in this discourse. We must be active participants who are at the forefront of the discussion, and we must be the authors of workable and sustainable solutions regarding racial justice. We must engage policymakers from a position of knowledge and commitment as a group.
7. What trends you see in higher education?
The trends in higher education that I usually focus on revolve around community colleges. Some of these trends are: (1) increase in enrollment, especially in the aftermath of COVID; however, enrollment for international students will continue to decline because of the impact of COVID, as well as policies of the current administration; (2) increase in graduation rates; and (3) financial aid will continue on a downward trend.
8. How do you stay grounded in times of change?
I stay grounded by remaining true to myself. I do not make apologies about who I am.
9. If you weren’t a professor, what would your profession be instead?
10. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I am an ambivert. People are usually shocked to learn this. Based on my profession and industry, and my general pleasant disposition, the assumption is that I am an extrovert. However, since I am aware that I am an ambivert, I quite easily make the mental adjustments, based on the environment in which I am operating at any given moment. For example, in the classroom, I use my extroverted side to bring fun and excitement to learning. I love young people, and the classroom provides a safe space to be me, all while having fun. Earlier, I talked about being very comfortable working from home. That is totally based on my introverted side. Having space, being able to pace how I interact, and choosing to block my Google camera – all enable me to enjoy my introvert.
11. What have you been reading and listening to lately?
Reading: “Across That Bridge” by John Lewis and “His Truth is Marching On” by Jon Meacham
Listening: “Upside Down 2020” by Buju Banton
12. What advice do you have for PGCC students this semester?
This too shall pass. You are in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
“I wanted to expand my knowledge,” explains A’ja Ross on why she chose to start classes at Prince George’s Community College. “I lived across the street from the College and was ready to do more.”
Ross, a native of Columbia, Md., came to the College after taking a six-year break from school. Within that time, Ross became a mom – one of her greatest tasks to date. “Being a single mom is not easy, but my son and I make it work. We make time so that we both can get our work done in a timely manner.” Ross says that her son is her motivation, noting that she is not just working on completing her degree for herself, but for him as well.
Ross is also a Generation Hope Scholar. This scholarship program for teen parents provides tuition assistance and one-on-one mentoring. Ross especially enjoys the program because it allows her to travel to other institutions and take her son with her. “He looks up to me and wants to go to college also now.”
Currently on the business administration pathway, Ross will graduate in Spring 2021. She plans to continue her education by obtaining her bachelor’s degree at either the University of Maryland Global Campus or Bowie State University. A’ja looks up to her entrepreneurial parents and plans to follow their footsteps once she receives her bachelor’s degree.
Working part-time on campus in the Student Academic Planning and Career Readiness office, Ross assists with student planning and acclimating students to the Navigate app. She also helps with transfer operations.
Ross provides the following advice for her peers and incoming students, “Take advantage of everything the College has to offer. There are a number of resources and programs offered to everyone!”
In 2015, Cecelia Knox, director of college and career transitions, was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer. The diagnosis hit like a “mack truck” for her. Knox, who has worked at Prince George’s Community College for 20 years, immediately reached out to her sister, a 32-year breast cancer survivor, for guidance. She later drove back to the College and met with Pamela Thomas, a former registered nurse coordinator at PGCC.
When trying to digest her diagnosis, Knox said that the spirit led her to outline four action items: make no decisions based on fear; take 90 days and figure it out; gather a team who believe in healing; and do what that team says. For Knox, it was the fourth item that was most difficult; admittedly she is not an easy patient.
Once she understood the assignment, Knox began active surveillance – a treatment plan in which the physicians monitor the cancer every six months, ensuring that there are no further developments and that the cancer is not spreading. Within the first six months, the cancer was no longer present. For six years, she followed this treatment plan before she was diagnosed with a new cancer in the same breast. This diagnosis came during the height of COVID-19. Knox waited to deal with her new cancer diagnosis as she took care of her brother who was battling COVID-19. He passed in May 2020.
After her brother’s death, Knox focused on her treatment plan. This time, she incorporated a holistic approach into her plan before getting surgery. In December 2020, Knox received a partial mastectomy and reconstruction on the affected breast, and a reduction on the opposite breast. In February 2021, she completed a short course of radiation.
Knox meets with a group of fellow survivors on the College’s campus, whom she considers to be “warriors,” that help her as she makes sound decisions during this journey. When assessing her time with the College, Knox says the thing she appreciates most is the autonomy she has to be creative and do her job, helping students.
Today, Knox is waiting for her next update from physicians on the status of the cancer and will go back to physicians for another scan in six months. Knox offers the following advice for individuals who are facing a diagnosis or on this same journey, “get a second opinion, and choose a medical team who are unafraid and have a track record of success.” She notes that, “we may face uncertainty, but make no decisions based on fear.”
Nationally, October is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While diagnoses have decreased, the CDC still recognizes breast cancer as the second leading cause of cancer death amongst women. For more information visit: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org.