GGC celebrates the success of its first AAMI/Elite Scholars class

Twenty-six young men have defied the odds and successfully completed their first year of college.

Selected as Georgia Gwinnett College’s first cohort of students in its new African American Male Initiative (AAMI), these students were recently celebrated at a luncheon attended by their families, GGC faculty and administrators and AAMI community partners.

“The statistics say you won’t graduate,” said keynote speaker Dwight Perry, Jr. of Perry International to about 100 students, family members and college representatives attending the luncheon. “Every time you go to class and get an A, you erase that statistic.”

Erasing statistics is why AAMI exists. Launched by the University System of Georgia (USG) in 2002, the program seeks to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation of African American male students, countering a national trend of decline in this demographic. Funded by the Lumina Foundation, AAMI has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of African American male college students in Georgia, as well as an increase in their retention and graduation rates. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to African American males has jumped almost 60 percent since 2003.  

Today, most USG institutions have AAMI programs. Georgia Gwinnett College’s program, entitled the Elite Scholars Program, was started last summer. It was open to freshman applicants with science, technology, mathematics or undecided majors. GGC’s program focused on helping these students succeed in their first year of study.

“Success during the first year of college is critical for any student,” said Deborah Reato, co-director for the Elite Scholars program. “For African American male students, first-year success is even more important. This program provided these students with a clear road map to success, a head start in adjusting to college, and help in overcoming obstacles they may encounter along the way.”

Georgia Gwinnett enhanced its program by establishing a steering committee of 15 male, African American faculty and staff members.

“The steering committee not only served in an advisory role for the overall program, its members also functioned as mentors, keeping the students engaged and on track,” said Lawana Haynes, co-director of the program. “This contributed immensely to the quality and effectiveness of the program.”

The GGC Elite Scholars attended a pre-college summer institute during which they were introduced to the collegiate environment, participated in hands-on laboratory and learning exercises, and attended several career-focused presentations.

The success-based focus continued for the rest of the academic year. The students committed to regular interactions with their assigned faculty mentors, as well as their professors. They also were required to attend an eight-week seminar series on careers, as well as meetings with community partners.

One of the program’s key community partners is the Lawrenceville-Duluth alumni chapter of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. Through its incorporation of the Elite Scholars within its Guide Right program, the chapter has pioneered inclusion of college students in this initiative, which is dedicated to the educational and occupational guidance of youth. The chapter also recently announced that it will fund a scholarship for returning Elite Scholars meeting certain criteria.

“I cannot thank the members of Kappa Alpha Psi enough,” said Reato. “Their involvement exposes the students to successful businessmen and mentors with whom they share much in common. Their example teaches the students valuable lessons in leadership, civic responsibility and social awareness. They show these young men what is possible when you set goals and pursue your dreams.”

The Elite Scholars also met minimum requirements for participation in campus life, including student organizations and college events. Their parents were invited to attend some events, reinforcing the need for family involvement and support as the students work toward their degrees.

Eunice Nti-Frempong attended the recent luncheon with her son, Kingsley Aggrey-Sam, and three other members of their family. She said she felt that Elite Scholars had been a great experience for Aggrey-Sam, who moved to the U.S. from Ghana four years ago to be with the rest of his family.

“The program has been very good,” she said. “It has given him a head start to a bright future.” A graduate of Duluth High School, Aggrey-Sam plans to pursue a career as a pharmacist.

The program’s results have been impressive, as 26 of the 28 participants are still in school. Group members have achieved a GPA of 2.57 or higher, significantly better than African American males not enrolled in the program, and better than the overall average for first-year students. Ten Elite Scholars have a 3.0 or higher.

As was acknowledged by speakers at the group’s recent luncheon, the statistics don’t reveal the students’ individual success stories, so their success stories were reviewed as they were called to the stage, one by one, to receive their program completion certificates. Their stories were as wide and varied as the rest of the GGC student population, with many working at least part time to support themselves or their families.

Four of the Elite Scholars are student assistants, working in assorted positions on campus. Several have even applied to work as resident assistants in student housing.

Aaron Harris, a HOPE Scholar from Grayson, achieved a 4.0 while pursuing a rigorous course schedule, working off campus and playing on the men’s varsity tennis team. He has been nominated as outstanding freshman and is majoring in information technology with a concentration in software development.

Derrick Davis was lauded for several pieces of artwork he submitted to the annual Intersections Conference, winning Best in Show. He has begun selling his art as a result of this distinction and is considering a career in information technology – software development.

Renardo Hester, a Monroe native, was originally attracted to Georgia Gwinnett College because of the low student to teacher ratio. He said he feels that the Elite Scholars program allowed him to be “ahead of the game” entering college. In fact, he recently earned a $2,000 scholarship from DoSomething.org.

“The AAMI co-directors, Lawana Haynes and Deborah Reato, have had a strong impact on my success at GGC,” he said. “I suggest that any African American male freshman take advantage of the AAMI program. It is a valuable tool and provides an abundance of information.”

Hester is considering a dual major in software development and psychology, with plans to work with adolescents in the future. 

Like his fellow Elite Scholars, he has a few statistics to erase.

Flickr photo gallery of African American Male Initiative/Elite scholars class

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