Social change begins in the classroom. Dr. Michael J. Sorrell has transformed Paul Quinn College, the small, private institution in Dallas. In his keynote address at the conference, he called for universities to help bring about social change and end poverty.
“I don’t think we have any choice but to start a movement,” Michael J. Sorrell, Ed.D., J.D., said to Adelphi faculty in his keynote address at the 2019 Teaching and Learning Conference held on campus on January 30. “You start a movement because people need you—and people need us.”
Those people, of course, are students, particularly from low-income backgrounds. As president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, since 2007, Dr. Sorrell has transformed the small, private institution, creating on-campus and community job programs and flexible class schedules while revamping and improving academics. In the process, he has been named the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Male President of the Year three times and to Fortune magazine’s list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.
A graduate of Duke University School of Law who served as a special assistant in the White House under President Bill Clinton, Dr. Sorrell believes that colleges and universities need to take a much more active role in promoting student success. Doing that can bring about social change and, ultimately, end poverty.
Dr. Sorrell is remaking Paul Quinn College, turning it into one of only nine federally designated work colleges, whose resident students are required to work and have their job performance tracked by the school. In doing so, he has increased retention and graduation rates while cutting tuition, thereby decreasing the debt load students carry upon leaving.
These innovations haven’t been at the expense of academics. Dr. Sorrell has implemented a focus on writing and public speaking skills, digital literacy, and critical thinking across all classes at Paul Quinn. Students can also earn certification in job-related skills every semester.
At the conference, he urged his listeners to know the needs of their students, to find out if they are struggling economically, and to open food banks and clothing exchanges on campus.
“That is the contract we’ve engaged in with our students—that the next will be better than the now,” he said.
Later in the day, Dr. Sorrell sat on a panel to discuss high-impact learning practices with Bernadine Waller, M.A. ’10, associate director of experiential learning at Adelphi, and Matthew Wright, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the physics department at the University.
All too often, first-year students arrive at college expecting to gain the skills to excel in the professional world, but without the basic knowledge and study skills needed for a successful college career, Dr. Sorrell said.
“Our students are coming to us with enormous deficits in terms of what traditional thought is as to what they should have learned,” he said.
It’s up to the campus community to help these students reach their potential. Paul Quinn College is doing that in Dallas and is now expanding to a new campus about 35 miles north in Plano, Texas, home of the regional offices of many major corporations. The college is also starting a consortium of urban work colleges, forming partnerships with Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Clearly, a movement has been started in higher education, one placing new emphasis on student success, experiential learning and diversity. It’s a movement that Adelphi is dedicated to helping lead.
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