This is a historic time for Bowie State University.
Aminta Breaux will become the university’s president this week, the first woman to do so in the school’s 153-year history. Breaux has actually been on board since July, but her role becomes official with Thursday’s inauguration activities, headed by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md).
As she prepares to fully take the reins of Maryland’s first historically Black institution of higher learning, Breaux spoke with The Informer about her vision for BSU:
Washington Informer: What is the significance of you serving as the first female president at BSU?
Aminta Breaux: My role begins a new era for the university signaling more inclusive and diverse talent across all populations throughout this region and the country. Furthermore, it is an honor and privilege to serve in this capacity knowing that I stand on the shoulders of other African-American women chief executive officers in higher education — women such as Mary McCleod Bethune, who founded Bethune Cookman College, and Lucy Laney, who founded the first Black school for children in Augusta, Georgia — Haines Institute for Industrial and Normal Education. More recently, there have been African-American women presidents such as Johnnetta Cole and Ruth Simmons, who have opened the door so that other women might find greater consideration as we advance in our career ladders.
WI: What is the “best kept secret” about BSU that illustrates the value of the institution?
AB: We are in this amazing location that is accessible to everything. We are just outside of Washington, D.C., north of Annapolis, and just below Baltimore. With a MARC train station on the campus, students can easily obtain a quality education that is affordable and accessible.
Recent newer facilities are next on the list. We have state-of-the-art facilities such as the Fine and Performing Arts building that was built in 2011. It is home to a recording studio where talented artists have prepared to go into the performing arts. BSU graduates such as Stephan Marcellus from last season’s “The Voice” on NBC and Jovan Adepo, who appeared in “Fences” with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
Another remarkable facility on the BSU campus is the Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Nursing. That facility provides smart classrooms and research labs focusing on the use of DNA barcoding to identify fish and vegetables. The [center] also houses a nursing simulation lab to prepare nurses with experiential learning prior to their direct work with patients.
WI: A major responsibility of a university president is fundraising. What makes BSU a valuable investment for individual and institutional funders?
AB: BSU’s enrollment is up nearly 13 percent. We are educating students in areas with some of the most rapid growth in the employment including computer technology and information security, cyber security education, management information systems, computer science and entrepreneurship studies. With the opening of new facilities, we have additional opportunities to grow in areas that matter to this region. An investment in our students through scholarships, internships, co-operative education, partnerships with industry and contributions to the infrastructure of our campus — are ways individuals and institutions can invest in BSU. It is an investment in our communities and supports the heart of the economic engine for this entire region.
Further, BSU has received top rankings on several national higher education lists including US News and World Report, Money magazine, The Economist and Diverse magazine.
WI: It seems that an HBCU closes every few years. What is your message about HBCUs, their value and their future?
AB: HBCUs more than ever offer a uniquely impactful educational experience serving a large proportion of first-generation and low-income students. The campus climate that is often termed as “nurturing” fosters a climate of success. However, as with any organization today, it’s important to keep ahead of the trends and to diversify offerings, disciplines, as well as how you deliver education. My vision for BSU is entitled “Racing to Excellence” and it is intended to convey a sense of urgency to change how we think about education for the 21st century generation of learners, because leaders in higher education understand that our environment and customer base is quite different today than it was 30 years ago. Thirty years ago, I would have reluctantly used the term “customer base” but as we know our students have a great many choices for their education.
Simultaneously, it’s important to rapidly grow a culture of philanthropy, including educating our donor base about the value of increasing the endowment. It’s important to have potential donors understand that giving at all levels is important, and we need to educate our donors and prospective donors about the various ways one can contribute, including: planned and estate gifts, charitable gift annuities as well as contributions to the annual fund.
WI: You’ve been at the helm at BSU since July 2017. What are the top three issues you want to tackle?
AB: Academic excellence, student success and the long-term viability of the institution. Specifically, I want to increase the amount of scholarship dollars and grow the endowment to enhance student success. Helping students defray the cost of education has the potential to enhance other areas for student success including retention and graduation rates. Many of our students are working two, three jobs. Research shows that academic performance is negatively impacted when students work more than 20 hours per week. To improve retention and graduation rates, we must help students address the gap between costs and financial need. BSU will hire a new vice president for enrollment management to provide greater oversight to the management of the overall student experience from the time the student applies until graduation.
WI: You established an endowed scholarship in honor of your father, Alex J. Woodley II. Is this scholarship targeted for specific majors? What are the qualifications for being considered for this scholarship?
AB: The scholarship is entitled The Racing to Excellence scholarship in honor of my father, Alex J. Woodley II, who was an educator as well as a track & field coach for the Philadelphia Pioneers Educational Athletic Development Club, where he coached Olympic athletes. The scholarship is open to students in any academic discipline, with first preference given to student-athletes in track and field. Students will need to write a short essay on the impact the funds will have on their educational pursuits. My father taught English as well as African American Studies at the high school level at Abington High School, outside of Philadelphia, and he would have wanted students from all disciplines to have an opportunity to further their education in general.
WI: Any final comments on your historic installation?
AB: Bowie State University is a brilliant gem in Prince George’s County! The university’s rich history, along with the outstanding academic programs and caring faculty, staff and student body, makes for a welcoming, bright and unique educational setting for today’s students. I am passionate about BSU and believe we are positioned for even greater success as we race to excellence. I am delighted that my life’s journey has brought me to this remarkable institution and to Prince George’s County, Maryland.