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Celebrating Black History Month – HCC Voices

Wanda Garcia

This month, Howard Community College (HCC) is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting faculty and staff who are working each day to inspire and support students along their pathway to success. We asked them to describe, in their words, what it means to be a person of color in their role at HCC and in higher education, and what advice to they have for students.

Wanda Garcia, Web Enterprise Engineer

“Being a Black woman in my role at Howard Community College has been a very interesting journey. I have experienced many firsts. I was the first female computer technician. I was the first Black female web professional, and the only Black and female web professional for all 16 community colleges for several years. Some of my noteworthy accomplishments include configuring the first computer network consisting of five computers that was used in the student computer lab. I have taught various IT related courses for 14 years. I have been invited to participate in various countywide initiatives that encourage girls and students of color to consider technology and engineering as a career option and I have also enjoyed several media opportunities showcasing various computer and networking technologies.

“The reason that I have mentioned these accomplishments is that there were Black and other people of color who saw me in a role that very few Black people were seen in. I think that by seeing me in my role as Black woman in technology, other Black people can see that many careers in Computer and Internet technology exist and that Black people are filling those roles. My mantra is “just because you do not see someone who looks like you does not mean that you can’t be the someone you are looking for.” I think young Black people need to be reminded that they can do anything. If you can’t find the opportunity that you want, create it.

“There is still a lot of work to do. I recall being the only woman and Black woman in many trainings and conferences. I do see a slight increase of Black people in IT, but more are needed. I would encourage students to join technology clubs, explore IT careers, do informational interviews, shadow an IT professional for a day, just to name a few. There are so many burgeoning innovations and opportunities in technology today; i.e. internet of things, artificial intelligence, smart homes, block chain, cybersecurity, medical technology, drones, gaming (virtual and augmented reality), cryptocurrency, and so much more. These are truly exciting times and we need more Black people and people of color to explore and pursue career and entrepreneur opportunities in technology.”

Joseph Pettiford, Associate Vice President of Human Resources

Joseph Pettifor

“My primary role here at the college is to serve people. The need for minorities and people of color to see me in a leadership role and impacting culture here at HCC is important. More important is the responsibility that comes with that. I try and lead by example and work with a goal to influence people in a way that answers the following question, “did the person leave with more information than they came to the meeting with and have I ensured that the experience they had was unlike anything else they may have had that day?” I look for ways to be good to people. In doing so, I see myself positively contributing to the diversity of thought, process, look and vibe of the campus.

“My faith is at the forefront of my guided path. Although I have been in Higher Education as an adjunct instructor since 2006, every step of my career journey has been inspired by my faith. I have worked diligently to gain a multi-disciplinary business background that has afforded me the opportunity to excel within my profession and multiple industries to include for profit, national non-profit, publicly traded, privately held and even a Fortune 50 company. Now, I can apply all of the best practices from the industries I have worked in and make real change in organizations.    

“Recognize that you are the sum total of your experiences in life. Some of that can be good or bad. We have the choice to fill ourselves with more positive after we recognize the negative we don’t care for or don’t value. Strive to blaze your own trail for what you like to do and by working with a servant leadership mentality, you will learn how to “…win friends and influence people.” Horace Mann, a pioneer of American public schools in the 19th century, famously called education “…the great equalizer of the conditions of men.” So, I say use it to make yourself and your personal brand undeniable!”

Schnell Garrett, Director of Student Life

schnell garrettI strive to be an example for students to see that you can be successful in various facets including higher education. As a Black/African-American woman at HCC, I have the opportunity to work with students of colors as a mentor and guide to their success.

My mother was a very strong proponent of education and instilled that value in my siblings and I. I was mentored as an undergraduate by Dr. Betty Gibson, former Vice President of Student Affairs at Kentucky State University. After working with her, I knew that I wanted to do what she did and sought opportunities to learn about higher education as a profession.

My motto is always do your best! As long as you give things your all, you will be successful!

Geoffrey Colbert, Senior Director of Athletics, Student Conduct, and the Executive Associate to the Vice President of Student Services.

geoffrey colbert

“Being the only Black/ African American male in senior leadership here at HCC means I get to forge a pathway ahead for my fellow minority colleagues who have similar goals and aspirations. This unique position allows me to have a voice in conversations that impact where we are as a college and where we are going. Furthermore, I get to influence decisions that will have an impact on fellow colleagues and, more importantly, our marginalized students.

“My mentor, Veronica Lewis, inspired me to purpose a career in higher education. She dedicated her entire career to supporting students who were first-generation, low-income students, just like me. It was her unwavering support that championed me to success during my undergraduate career at Radford University. It’s because of her I have devoted my career to supporting students who are underprivileged or marginalized — students who were me.

“College is a journey. A voyage that you will have difficulties and trials to overcome. When encountering the problematic part of your expedition, remember it’s not about how many L’s (losses) you will be judged on; it’s about how you dust yourself off and keep moving. Perseverance is the single most concrete predictor of your success!”

Zakia Johnson, Director of Testing

Zakia Johnson

“Being Black at Howard Community College means that I must ensure that everything I do for our students, my team, colleagues, leadership, the institution, and the field of higher education is done with excellence. My ancestors fought and died for my freedom, education, and ability to be in the spaces I am in. I do not take that lightly.

“I struggled my first year at the University of Delaware. But, because of my village which included friends, faculty, administrators, and the University of Delaware’s Student Support Services Program/TRIO, I was able to improve my grades, became active on campus, and found my purpose. I became a resident assistant, was promoted to hall director, and then became a full-time residence life professional (while pursuing my masters in higher education administration), and ultimately found my passion—advocating for students.

"Do not take your opportunity to pursue your education, dreams, and passion for granted. Identify your village, use your resources, and strive for excellence in EVERYTHING you do. Also, be sure to give back to those behind you as others did for you.”

Topics: Campus Life
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