By John J. “Ski” Sygielski, MBA, Ed.D., president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
Published by PennLive, Feb. 20, 2021
Without the contributions of Black educators such as Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights leader, teacher and founder of Bethune-Cookman College which set the educational standards for black colleges, and Nathan Hare, who created the first Black Studies Program in 1968, higher education would not be what it is today. There are thousands of examples of what’s best about humanity among the Black members of the community at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College. Our College hopes to emulate the creativity, kindness, intelligence, resilience and generosity we see in them every day. Here are examples of just a few of the many Black individuals who represent what is best about HACC. In celebration of Black Heritage Month, we celebrate you!
Karen Morris-Priester, M.D., is a HACC alumna who personifies perseverance. Growing up in the projects of Harrisburg, Karen remembers watching in awe as doctors cared for her ailing grandmother. At that moment, she decided she would someday join their ranks. She didn’t start her college education at HACC until age 30, but she persevered, and became the first grandmother to graduate from Yale Medical School in 2007.
HACC nursing instructor Virginia Mickens has taught our area’s nurses for over 30 years. She knows that she is giving them more than just a medical education. She shared with us, “I believe that what I teach is just as important as what the students have learned about themselves in the whole educational process.”
College classes are challenging, but imagine what it’s like to take college-level classes in a language you barely know. HACC student Bachir came to us from Niger on the advice of his brother-in-law, who also went to HACC and encouraged Bachir to apply. In addition to acquiring new language skills with our English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, he wanted to take on a new challenge, completing a bachelor’s degree after HACC.
One of our younger alumnae, Brianna Campbell, is paving a bright future for herself. Having graduated from HACC and Cornell University, she shared her best wishes to our 2020 graduating classes, “Remember to give boldly back into the people and communities that got you where you are today.” We cannot wait to see what Brianna achieves!
HACC human services student Corrie wants to use her degree to give back to her community. Her goal is “starting my own non-profit organization to assist the community homelessness and domestic violence concerns in young adults.”
After HACC student Jemell was in and out of prison over 25 years, he decided it was time for a change. He earned his GED in prison and enrolled at HACC for business classes after his release. He shared with us, “Once I was released from prison, I worked minimum wage jobs while spending time mentoring young people from at-risk communities. I would tell them, ‘I walked the same streets as you, I made a lot of the same mistakes as you. You don’t have to go that way. Just do things the right way, and your life will be better.’” Jemell shares his story in his book, “From D.O.C. to C.E.O.”
HACC alumnus Donald Pollard’s education path took him to an MBA in fashion management from LIM College in New York, but he returned to Central Pennsylvania to invest in his community. In 2017, Donald spoke at TEDxHarrisburg. His advice to prospective students – “Listen to your heart, find what drives you, what motivates you.”
Throughout this month and throughout the year, please visit our Facebook and Instagram pages for more stories of Black members of the HACC community. We celebrate every one of them.