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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Tony Allen: DSU’s exceptional year will reap benefits for whole state

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DSU President Tony Allen
DSU President Tony Allen

Delaware State University wears 2020 well.
As most of the world struggled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, DSU had a banner year with record fund-raising, a testing plan that brought most students back to campus and a rise in national awareness.
Delaware’s only Historically Black College and University didn’t know about the $20 million that it would receive this month from MacKenzie Scott, who in 2020 gave away nearly $6 billion to a variety of schools and nonprofits.
“But I had some sense that if we kept going the way we were, some good things would happen later in the year, and that’s what happened,” said DSU President Tony Allen. “We’ve kept our nose to the grindstone and really tried to speak to the moment in terms of the pandemic and some of the violence and unrest, and I think people have started to notice, and it’s paying off in a significant way.”
Scott’s donation was the biggest the school has ever received, and 2020 will go down as the institution’s biggest fund-raising year.
Allen, who became DSU’s president in January, has seen his school notch a lot of significant milestones in his first year:
  •  The school agreed to take over Wesley College in July, promising that doing so wouldn’t take financial support away from DSU but welcoming the diversity the small liberal arts college would bring. It became the country’s first HBCU to take over another institution.
  • With an innovative testing program that got national coverage, 1,800 of the school’s usual 2,200 students came back to campus, even with online and hybrid classes. A mandatory once-a-week testing program and on-campus quarantine dorm kept the positive rate a .4%.
  • DSU rose to No 3 among public Historically Black Colleges and Universities in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, and was named No. 11 overall. 
  • J.P. Morgan Chance gave DSU $1 million investment for its Advancing Black Pathways initiative. Some of the money will help pay students who have internships.
  • Scott’s announcement came the next week.
  • That same week, Tik-Tok said it was giving DSU $1 million to fund scholarships for students pursuing medical and health-care degrees.
  • Several days later, the Longwood Foundation announced it was giving DSU $1 million to use for the Wesley College transition, helping fulfill the promise that no money earmarked for DSU would go into the deal.
  • All that money was on top of DSU’s faculty bringing in more than $22 million in federal and other grants.

 

 

Allen wouldn’t phrase the school’s achievements as a dream come true.

“I think that we have really tried to thrive through a very difficult time,” Allen said. “I’ve told people many times that one of the ways to do this is to speak through the moment. When you think about COVID-19 and some of the racial unrest, a place like DSU should be a real center of engagement and comfort for students who come from communities that have less resources, that are trying to change their economic trajectory for themselves and their families.”

Like a cherry on top of all that, Allen himself is set up for a bit of the national spotlight as chief executive officer of the Presidential Inaugural Committee for President-elect Joe Biden. He also helped organize the Democratic National Convention beamed out of Wilmington’s Chase Center on the Riverfront.

DSU has always had a great story to tell, Allen said, paraphrasing something he said when he became president.

“We just need to tell it, and we need more storytellers,” he said after all the donations were announced. “Really being able to put out what is already going on out here as a comprehensive research institution and Delaware’s only HBCI, we knew there was  story.”

 

Embracing testing to bring students back to campus became part of DSU’s message of finding solutions and thriving.

“It amplified our message from our students come from so many backgrounds and experiences and are fighting to get to the finish line,” Allen said.

Even with the great year, Allen said, “There’s no time for rest. In my view and a lot of people’s views, HBCUs have been historically underfunded while overserving. We’re just 3 percent of colleges but we represent 25 percent of African American programs. I think we punch well above our weight, and the idea is to make sure that everybody understands that and sees us a partner of choice when they are thinking about building a diverse talent pipeline.”

That’s one reason J.P. Morgan Chase’s donation was so welcome: It helps put DSU student into positions where they can learn, succeed and be seen

Some of the money from Scott will do the same. Her donation will be used for:

  • Continued funding for the Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, which will include the Center for Neighborhood Revitalization Research, the Center for Global Africa, the Academy of Trauma Healing Research and the University Center for Economic Development & International Trade.
  • Increasing resources available to Academic Affairs, which will include the creation of several endowed chairs,
  • Supporting the acquisition of Wesley College.
  • Increasing the university’s endowment.

 

The Global Institute was formed in the summer, and DSU faculty are already heading each center, working across several disciplines. Some of Scott’s money will go to recruiting and paying someone to head the institute and oversee the centers.

All of that means that DSU and others have an opportunity to grow and provide more resources for the world, he said.

“I think several things have conspired in our favor relative to what’s happening in the nation,” Allen said. “People are certainly really looking at the complexities of racial equity and social justice, and I also think that folks are much more serious today about building a diverse talent pipeline. That’s in DSU’s favor, and HBCUs at large favor.

“There are 101 HBCUs across the country, and I believe that very few people have a sense of the heft. We graduate 350,000 students of color every year. It really is a go-to opportunity if people are being mindful about it and interested. MacKenzie Scott is probably one of the best examples of what it means to be interested and how being interested will help figure out a way to leverage that throughout the system.”

Her donation could have a big influence on the state of Delaware, too.

“It’s a great opportunity for Delaware to be a leader in the racial equity space, too,” he said.

 

 

 

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