Knight grant will help black male <br>students 'rise to the occasion' at UA


The University of Akron will work to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of black male students, with a $425,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“The University of Akron has an institution-wide commitment to inclusive excellence,” says Dr. Luis M. Proenza, UA president. “Knight Foundation’s generous support of our ongoing efforts reinforces our belief in this worthy pursuit.”

Nationally and locally, college retention and graduation rates are starkly lower for African-American males than their classmates. For example, during the 2006-07 academic year, the first-year retention rate for African-American males at UA was 46 percent, compared to 54 percent for African-American females and 66 percent for all first-year students.

UA’s “Rising to the Occasion” program, part of the Office of Multicultural Development, will be strengthened with Knight Foundation support. The program will hire a coordinator of African-American Male Initiatives to create a supportive environment, for students, promote their academic achievement and create opportunities for leadership and student life engagement.

“Rising to the Occasion” will include:

  • Creating support systems by placing African-American male freshmen into small groups, taking courses and attending study groups and leadership exercises together;
  • Launching a “Rites of Passage” program to focus on self-esteem, identity, personal responsibility and professional development;
  • Conducting a climate study on African-American males to gain understanding of the campus experience, in order to help improve it; and
  • Providing faculty workshops and symposiums on challenges facing African-American students.

"Improving the retention and graduation rate of African-American males is a benefit to all, which translates into a more informed citizenry, a more educated and equipped workforce that better positions this nation to compete globally and also to build stronger and stable families," says Fedearia Nicholson, director of UA’s Office of Multicultural Development.

The program complements Knight Foundation’s focus on promoting informed and engaged communities, says Jennifer Thomas, Akron program director for Knight Foundation.

“Rising to the Occasion will help African-American men adjust to the rigors of college, develop confidence, and create lifelong networks that can transform their lives and their communities,” Thomas adds.

Michael Davis, a UA sophomore who participated in a piloted learning community for African-American men last year says, "The African-American Male learning community was one of the major contributors to my academic success during my first year of college. It gave me the opportunity to meet other students just like myself, build strong relationships, and not only help me to become a better student, but a better person, too."

Marcus Phelps, who has been involved with UA’s Office of Multicultural Development and plans to graduate in May with a degree in economics, looks forward to seeing the program’s results. “The Rising to the Occasion program will not only support our African-American male students currently, but also set higher standards for our African-American male population to exceed for years to come,” he says.

Media contact: Sarah Lane, 330-972-7429 or