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Celebrating the Stories of Black Scholars


In celebration of Black History Month, ACT is reflecting on stories from Black students who are on unique higher education journeys. From ACT Scholars to SAAB, these students demonstrate how Black students are identifying and seizing opportunities to fulfill their potential while empowering their peers and future generations of learners.

What was your motivation for going to college and earning a degree?

Nelson Rhomberg, associate of arts, Kirkwood Community College:
I have grown up differently than most of my friends. I was born in Haiti in 2001 in a very small village outside of Arcahaie. My family was very poor and my mom was trying to raise my brothers and sisters and me by herself. My job as a kid was to help take care of my younger siblings. I wasn’t able to go to school because my mom couldn’t afford to send me. In 2013, I was taken to a Créche to be adopted along with my little brother. We were adopted and moved to Iowa in 2016. I was 15 years old.

There are so many kids in Haiti who do not have the opportunity to go to school at all, which makes me appreciate it more that I get that chance.

Read more about Nelson’s college-going journey. 

What sorts of educational and cultural activities have you found most effective in helping you take full advantage of your college years?

Talon Mitchell, bachelor of science, Missouri State University: The most important and effective educational activities are clubs and organizations that align with your major and interests! They have an abundance of helpful information. Also, there are probably older students who can be your guide and help you be successful and more efficient when trying to reach your goals.

When there are events, speakers, or celebrations on or off campus, take advantage and attend, especially if the culture is different from yours. Sometimes it's just difficult to understand the importance of others' cultures when you’ve never experienced them for yourself. But regardless of whether you can relate, a culturally conscious experience helps us create a more collaborative community. Without learning about other cultures, we would neither encounter nor recognize the benefits each culture adds to our world.

Read more about Talon’s college-going journey.

How does your research address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, challenges, and opportunities?

Alexis Oakley, Ph.D candidate, University of Iowa: My current research interests have been concentrated on how various statistical and psychometric models use data from different invariance studies. Invariance studies evaluate underlying constructs or latent traits across multi-group data – including diverse identified populations like cultures, grades, genders, and socioeconomic scales – or longitudinal data, to show change over time.

With measurement invariance studies, I can explore and advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, challenges, and opportunities in education measurement and statistics. These issues and challenges have become a small conversation in the testing community, but they have yet to be discussed more thoroughly. I would love to stir up the proper discussions on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in testing with my own research.

Read more about Alexis’ college-going journey.

Is there any advice you would give to education and equity advocates who seek to ensure that students of color, and Black men in particular, are able to succeed academically, socially, and professionally?

Tyler Burt, bachelor of science, Missouri State: The best advice I can give is to listen to what we’re saying. A lot of the time Black men don’t feel heard in what they are saying or needing, and it can take just that one advocate to truly listen to change his life entirely.

Read more about Tyler’s college-going journey.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a first-generation college student?

Kossi Boluvi, associate of applied science, Kirkwood Community College: Because I come from a different cultural background in Togo, West Africa, I was feeling uncomfortable in the collegiate atmosphere. However, I understand the value of an education. A community college education is an expense, but it’s an investment that is definitely worthwhile.

Read more about Kossi’s college-going journey.

What advice would you give to first-generation college students today?

Savanna McAtee, associate of applied science, Kirkwood Community College: Believe in yourself and know your worth. Make sure to go to class and pay attention, stay after school for those open hours and connect with your advisors. They can help answer the questions your parents can’t and lead you to more information you may have missed out on.

You also have to advocate for yourself and find a good support system, whether it be family or friends, because there will be times when you may want to quit. It will be hard, but you can be the first in your family and you will make a difference to your younger family members who are looking for that example to look up to.

Read more about Savanna’s college-going journey.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Dr. Omolola Terrika Anaman, University of Iowa: Every student has a unique journey in education. Everyone wants to go the four-year route, but it isn’t “one size fits all.” I started at a community college in my hometown and now I am an ACT Scholar, receiving a full-ride scholarship from ACT, and finishing my doctorate.

Some people may doubt you, but do not allow that to influence your path. You can define your own version of what it means to be successful! Any degree that allows you to work and follow your passion is great; don’t be pressured to attend a four-year college, if it’s not what you desire.

Read more about Omolola’s college-going journey.