HBCU Alumnas Share The Life-Changing College Experiences That Shaped Their Career Success
Career & Money

HBCU Alumnas Share The Life-Changing College Experiences That Shaped Their Career Success

News of the recent legislative blow barring affirmative action in higher education has shined a spotlight on HBCUs and whether they might be a more viable option for Black students and professionals seeking advanced degrees. It's also led to debates about why one would choose a Black institution of higher education and led me to reminisce on my own HBCU experience.

As a proud Hampton University graduate with a print journalism degree, my experience there is the reason I am confident, resilient, and forward-thinking. I went on to work for major publishers, including The New York Times, so I never felt any sort of short-comings or less-than insecurities about not choosing a majority-white school. And I'm not an outlier. Much of my graduating class has similar success stories.

I was once asked in a newsroom, "How did you get here coming from the school you went to?" The words "affirmative action" sputtered from this small-minded, insecure person's lips thereafter. I simply smirked and said, "Well, you think affirmative action got me here, but did it keep me here? And why are you at a lower title than me? Didn't you graduate from an Ivy League?"

At Hampton, I was able to carve out my own path of excellence and redefine success for myself after living in the shadow of an amazingly brilliant valedictorian brother---who was highly sought-after by universities and who went on to find success and great career advancement after studying engineering at one of the top (and majority-white) schools in the nation.

It was also the tenacity, self-starting skills, self-sufficiency, thick skin, and the manifestation of Black excellence developed from my experience at Hampton---not affirmative action---that led to a successful and pretty long career in journalism.

I caught up with a few other amazing women to talk about how their HBCU experiences positively impacted their career choices and later success and the best college experiences of their lives:

Terysa Ridgeway


Program Manager at Google

Author, Think Like A Computer

Southern University Graduate

On college experience and impact on post-grad career choice and growth: "HBCUs, in general, always provide a very nurturing, fostering type of environment. I feel that, for me, as a young woman at the time, that was super-beneficial. That provided me with emphasis on leadership, empowerment, and still giving back in leadership roles in our communities."

"My parents met on the campus of Southern University. My two oldest sisters went there. We're a traditional Southern University family."

On thriving in STEM after college: "As a freshman, sometimes people would pay me to design their MySpace pages and Blackplanet profiles. Even learning more HTML and going deeper into [computer] science like C and C-sharp, which are more program-specific languages, and building that muscle more formal was pivotal to me. Personally, social media was my fun place, but being able to tie in those things that I just enjoy in a fun space, and then [I understood that], okay, this could 100% be a career path if I buckle down and focus on it."

Karen G. Hatcher CPM


CEO & Founder, Sovereign Realty & Management

Clark Atlanta University Graduate

On how her educational experience impacted her career: "I am in real estate development, and we also manage investment portfolios. I'm an entrepreneur, and we just had our 15th anniversary last year. We do a lot of residential investments here in the Atlanta market. Clark Atlanta had the business school. I took my first real estate class there. And that was one of my electives. ...I get to use all of those finance skills every day in analyzing real estate. ... It's really cool to be able to lean on those tools that I learned at CAU and into [graduate] school and actually apply it every single day in my work."

"It was predominately white where I grew up---upstate New York, near the Great Lakes---and to come down and to be in a sea of Black excellence, with all these hopes and all these dreams. It was incredible."

On the benefits of attending an HBCU: What I find from people who have graduated from HBCUs is their--our--ability to show up. The level of confidence that we have in moving in multiple rooms. ... You receive a different level of love that is poured into you. You're the majority in a sea of excellence. Our ability to pitch, to interview, to make decisions, to network---it's on another level.

Danyell Taylor


Private Enrollment Specialist at K12.com, A Stride Co.

Howard University Graduate

On the moment that she knew Howard was a good fit: "Going to the A-building, being discouraged, being in a new city with some funds but not many, and there was a student who was like, 'Are you on scholarship?' I'm like, 'Nope, not on scholarship.' And then, immediately from that conversation, we went to class. He connected with me the next day, and I got scholarship funds. He was a mentor. My communications teacher was a mentor, and then I was able to work with other communications students in a way that I wasn't able to see myself [before].

"That was three months into my experience. I swear, I'd called my mother, like, 'I think I've gotta come home. I don't think I'm going to be able to make it, especially being 22 hours from my family.' So to have him really turn it around on the dime, to have another communications teacher pour into me...He even encouraged me to do my PhD at Howard. That was the turning point where I said, 'Yes, this is the best experience.' They really wrapped their arms around me and kept me encouraged."

"What Howard did was tell me that I could be a communicator, that I could succeed, and that I could make a difference. And especially because Howard made a difference in my life through education, I decided I want to make a difference in the lives of families through education."

Ashleigh Demi


Cheyney University of Pennsylvania Graduate

Media Personality And Host

Founder, Now Go Be Fabulous!

On impactful legacy in choosing Cheyney: "I really wanted to do broadcasting, journalism, and communications. I was the anchor for my high school, so going into college it was a no-brainer that that's what I wanted to do. I knew that Ed Bradly of 60 Minutes was an alumni of Cheyney, and I knew that [Washington] DC's own Jim Vance, an anchor on NBC4 went to Cheyney. It wasn't too far from home, and I wanted to get that drum line experience from an HBCU."

"I know that with that experience, Cheyney gave me confidence. It gave me the wow factor that I'm among the greats."

On support and love that led to thriving: "I always could ask someone for help and would not be left behind, even if I had to volunteer or do extra credit. There was always something there where I was able to not fail. With HBCUs, they want to see you succeed. My educational experience at Cheyney was nurturing. If they see you struggling, the professor would pull you aside and talk to you to figure out what challenges you're facing. There's always some type of study group or someone to help you succeed. "

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