Published March 28, 2019
Levi Vasquez, an eighth-grader from Enterprise Charter School in downtown Buffalo, sat with the rest of his classmates on a recent Friday afternoon in UB’s Intercultural and Diversity Center. This was Vasquez’s first time visiting UB, and he was surprised at what he saw when he got here.
“I like how spacious UB is, as it reminds me of a little town,” Vasquez said. “I would love to take many more visits in the future. I think education is important, and who you surround yourself with is also important.”
No one could have said it better.
Vasquez was one of 27 eighth-grade students from Enterprise Charter’s Junior Frontiers of the Mohawk Valley program who visited UB’s North Campus to discuss diversity, intercultural experiences and the importance of going to college.
The stop at the Intercultural and Diversity Center was part of a tour and introduction to UB that was organized and sponsored by multiple faculty in the Graduate School of Education.
For the eighth-graders, it was the latest experience for the students enrolled in the school’s Junior Frontiers program, the largest civic youth organization based in Central New York that two years ago expanded to Buffalo. The organization provides opportunities for underrepresented students to explore higher education. The UB visit and tour was another example of what Junior Frontiers instructor and liaison Bonnie Cox calls “daily applications,” or being able to take what you have gained from these new experiences and have discussed in the classroom, and then apply these new perspectives to everyday life.
“Daily application in a nutshell is giving students opportunities to utilize what they have experienced and to see themselves as successful in underrepresented spaces,” says Cox, who is also an interventionist for the seventh- and eighth-graders at Enterprise Charter School.
“We do this by bringing in professionals to speak to our students regarding how they made life choices ensuring their personal pathway to success. In addition, we take the students to see for themselves how minority-owned businesses can thrive.”
This daily applications principle applies to every aspect of personal growth the Junior Frontiers program provides, Cox said. “Table manners, etiquette, looking into someone’s eyes when talking to them, projecting when you are speaking are all important skills,” she said. “My students need to know that if I am teaching them or talking to them about something, that it will not just be a lecture. It will follow with application, where I will provide opportunities for them to demonstrate what they learned in a real-life arena.”
Junior Frontiers students have toured historic black colleges, visited the house where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up, and explored the Slave Haven Underground Museum in Memphis, Tenn. Locally, they toured the Nash House, the site of the Underground Railroad and the Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo.
“What the program tries to do for the students is give them practical experience for becoming real-life academic professionals,” said Corey Griswold, seventh and eighth-grade social studies teacher. In one recent classroom activity, students viewed a movie called “The Great Debaters,” which depicted African-Americans debating during segregation. Students watched the movie and then participated in debates themselves.
“It actually made a difference because a lot of the kids participating in the debate displayed speaking skills far more sophisticated than what they typically show during an everyday class discussion,” Griswold said. “And these public speaking skills will determine who will fill the role of the student speaker at graduation.
“It’s already made an impact on how they view themselves as leaders in the class.”
For these students, learning everyday life lessons means taking the instructional part of class and connecting it to the real world, Cox explains.
So the UB tour fit the mission perfectly.
First stop on the tour: a chat with Linwood Roberts, director of community engagement for the School of Dental Medicine, who got the students’ attention by asking the adults in the Baldy Hall classroom to leave before he started his presentation.
“It’s always fun kicking adults out of a room,” Roberts said. “The only reason I kicked everyone out was so you can pay attention to me.”
Roberts told them he was scheduled to be off today, but he came into work to talk to the students because he was “an anomaly,” “a unicorn.” Someone who didn’t fit the expected norm every step of the way.
“Want me to tell you why?” Roberts asked. “If you haven’t noticed, I have dreadlocks. And I work at UB. And I was born on the East Side of Buffalo. And I’m a former Marine.”
He knew he didn’t exactly fit the description of what students might assume a typical UB administrator would be like, he said.
“One of the major reasons I like talking to you is I grew up in Buffalo and I didn’t know UB existed,” he said. “I promise you. I don’t know whose fault it was. I don’t know if it was my fault. Or I don’t know if it was the administrators’ fault for not reaching out to those specific communities.
“But I will tell you it’s pretty special you’re here right now because I was never at a UB campus when I was your age. If I knew about the University of Buffalo that was literally blocks away from where I grew up, I would have come to UB.”
Then Roberts quoted actor Will Smith: “The moment you should be terrified is the most blissful experience of your life.” Getting past the fear of anything exposes you to the greatest experiences in life, Roberts told the students.
“Never be afraid of going into something new,” he said. “You can find something you never would have experienced. And you can have a lot of fun.”
When Roberts had finished — and allowed the grown-ups back in the room — the students and their teachers wound their way through the hallways and stairwells of Baldy to the Student Union.
After getting lunch at Putnam’s in the Student Union, the students walked to the Intercultural and Diversity Center in 240 Student Union, where they ate and listened to their second speaker, Nathan J. Daun-Barnett, associate professor of higher education administration in the Graduate School of Education and an expert on college access, financial policy and college transition.
“I spend a lot of time out in the community working with students thinking about going to college,” said Daun-Barnett, whose special projects include College Success Centers, which are spaces within schools where students can become familiar with what Daun-Barnett calls “a college-going culture.” “And I love the fact you are here.”
Daun-Barnett brought with him his panel of experts: former UB wrestler Ian James, Alexandra Torres, Joanna Saintil and Destiney Plaza, all students studying education.
Daun-Barnett asked the guests from Enterprise Charter about their interests. Who liked math? Social studies? Science?
“I spent 13 years in college,” Daun-Barnett said. “Anyone want to spend 13 years in college?”
“Maybe,” one student answered.
“There you go,” Daun-Barnett answered. ‘That’s what I’m talking about.”
Daun-Barnett asked the students how many were athletes, and got a good response of hands.
“So if you want to know what it’s like to be a college athlete, you might want to ask Ian some questions about that.”
Then he introduced Torres, a senior studying international relations. Torres told the students she hopes to work with students on an international level and on global development.
“How many of you are thinking about studying in another country?” Barnett asked. “Or how many would like to visit another country? There we go. Now we have some hands.”
Saintil told the students there was a major transition from high school to college, but that was no reason students just like those in the room couldn’t make that move.
“I don’t ever want to hear any of you as people of color talk about the difficulty of college because you will never know how hard college is until you actually go and make an effort,” she said. “As eighth-grade students, ya’ll are probably worried about high school right now. But ya’ll are going to get through that and ya’ll are going to excel. Then, ya’ll are going to be worried about college after high school.
“But I promise every one of you that you can get through it,” she saidl “Ya’ll have class eight hours a day right now and homework on top of that. In college, you get to choose when to have class, and it makes life so much easier. You can do whatever you want to do in life, but you have to have self-control and set limits for yourself.”
The Enterprise Charter students seemed to absorb the message.
“We are taught in schools to learn how important college is,” said eighth-grader Brandon Jackson. “That’s why we’re taking a trip like today so we can get a taste of what college is like”
Jackson said he would love to be a football player or veterinarian someday.
“But in order for that to happen, I need to do good in school and outside of school.”
Eighth-grader Clinton Peyton admitted he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. “But I want to go to college,” he said.
“I think it’s important to have role models and people to look up to,” Peyton said. “I look up to people like LeBron James, who gives back to his community. I want to be able to do that someday.
“You have to be ready to overcome challenges that you may face.”
The tour continued as UB admissions counselors answered questions about getting accepted (“Is it true admissions only read the first paragraph of your personal statement?”) and life at UB once you do start. (“Are there parties?” and “Are there curfews?”)
After that, Lamb and Elisabeth Etopio, assistant dean of teacher education and clinical assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education, led the students on a tour of Alumni Arena and the Center for the Arts, and provided commentary on the history of UB.
The day concluded with offers to the students and teachers to come back and explore the campus as often as they would like.