Saturday, May 17, 2008

At U-Va., A Dean Making a Difference -

At U-Va., A Dean Making a Difference - More black students graduate from the University of Virginia within six years than from any other public university in the country, and here's why: institutional commitment, an admissions process that selects strong students, generous financial aid and a network of peer advisers.

Not only that, they've got Sylvia Terry, the associate dean of African American affairs, who has, in effect, re-created the high expectations and the support she learned from her parents, her small town and the historically black college her family attended. One by one, she's trying to ensure that these students get the benefits -- intellectual, cultural and economic -- of a college degree. She bakes them cakes, e-mails them poems, gives them hugs -- and expects them to make good. She'll celebrate with a couple of hundred of them Sunday.

"Sometimes you can point to one person who makes such a huge difference," said John Blackburn, director of admissions. "She just nurtures every kid who comes through the door."

Race relations at U-Va. have never been perfect, and in recent years there have been flare-ups over racist graffiti and other issues. But there is an institutional commitment from President John T. Casteen III on down to ensuring that black students stay in school and graduate -- including generous financial aid for needy families, an emphasis on recruiting and academic support and an intense system of peer mentoring that Terry has built up.