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New Stith Retention Conference Translates Trials into Triumph

by Shaquille Jordan -

For years, HBCUs have played a major role in providing access to postsecondary education for millions of minorities who mainly come from low-income families. Many of these minorities are also first-generation students who are looking at these HBCUs to give them the resources, tools, and experience so that they can prosper as future leaders. Our tagline at Norfolk State University, “We See the Future in You,” gives students a sense of hopefulness, belonging, and encouragement. We want to make our students feel like Norfolk State isn’t just an institution, but a place where students are family.

The family-oriented atmosphere, community ties, history, and culture that HBCUs are known for are reasons why students choose to live the “HBCU experience.” With all that HBCUs offer to attract and recruit our students, NSU does everything in its power to retain our students as well. Our faculty and staff here in the land of Sparta are committed to increasing our retention and students’ success, and our new retention conference is an important tool for doing just that.

The inaugural Stith Retention Conference was held on March 30-31. The theme for this year’s conference was “Remarkable Resilience: Translating Trials into Triumph.” Two of our major donors and NSU alumni Dr. Patricia Lynch Stith and her husband Dr. Melvin Stith, Former Interim President of Norfolk State University, joined us in person on campus to enjoy the conference.

This two-day virtual event offered various sessions that highlighted best practices and trends in student retention not only at Norfolk State but at HBCUs across the nation. The keynote speaker, Dr. Tia Brown McNair, a research scholar in student success, diversity, and equity, delivered an amazing keynote. Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, Assistant Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness at Virginia Union University, also delivered a rousing session on retention and the academic enterprise. In addition, the conference featured breakout sessions, and retention panels, comprised of faculty, staff, and students.

The conference culminated with our acknowledgment of unsung heroes. Conference Chair Dr. Andrea Neal shared “from the onset of planning, we wanted to drive home that retention is everyone’s responsibility. Unsung Heroes was an opportunity to pay homage to those who we may not expect to directly contribute to students’ success. These individuals aren’t necessarily in the forefront, but support students.”

Dr. Neal shared a story of an unsung hero at her alma mater emphasizing that the students we serve, low-income, first-generation, minorities, veterans, adult learners, etc., often have a plethora of needs that we must address for them to be successful. Dr. Neal also noted that the event exceeded its registration.

“Feedback has been phenomenal,” she said. “And the conference is clearly a welcome addition to the great work NSU is already doing.”

Neal stated she is excited about the next retention conference.