This Black History Month, City Colleges of Chicago faculty and staff are sharing their HBCU success stories and explaining how their time at a HBCU impacts their work today. 

Read more from Barbara Meschino, Dean of Malcolm X College’s West Side Learning Center, below.

Growing up, it felt like there was space at a HBCU just for me thanks to popular TV shows and movies like The Cosby Show and Spike Lee’s School Daze. So, when my high school college advisor suggested Clark Atlanta University to me, it felt like it was going to be a good fit—and it was.

As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I felt like I was part of a family and amongst people who cared enough to help me navigate this academic space. The professors at Clark Atlanta held all students to a high standard—either you’d meet that level of greatness they mapped out for you or exceeded it.

The instructors were also compassionate and provided a level of support I needed. One semester, my mother was sick and I couldn’t make it back to Chicago to be with her. I was stressed and worried and missing a lot of one professor’s class. I talked to the professor and explained my situation. She walked me through all the work I needed to make up and told me to come to class when I could, even if I was late. I ended up getting an ‘A’ in that course. The experience taught me the importance of communicating and building relationships.

I loved my time at a HBCU and I’d do it all over again, from the experiences of homecoming and basketball games to my community service experiences working with the YWCA and local high school students through the Upward Bound program. I made lifelong friends who came to Chicago when I had my first child. My Clark Atlanta experiences also encouraged me to continue my education and obtain my master’s degree in social work.

Dean Barbara Meschino on her graduation day at Clark Atlanta University.

There are so many takeaways from my time at Clark Atlanta: the importance of building relationships, serving my community, resilience, and communication. These are key traits that drive my work at the West Side Learning Center (WSLC). The biggest takeaway is the motto I learned at Clark Atlanta, which is “find a way or make one.” It has guided me through undergrad, grad school, my career, and my life.

I became dean in 2020, right before the pandemic hit. I wanted to keep the momentum going that WSLC had seen from our recent expansion, but bringing people into the building for class wasn’t possible. I never forgot “find a way or make one.” I created WSLC Community Day. We set up tables outside and shared our resources with the Austin community. I’m so proud of the way that event has grown year after year.

My advice to any City Colleges student preparing to transfer is to consider a HBCU. You’ll get a high-quality education and the experience of a lifetime. You’ll feel a sense of belonging, you’ll be challenged, you’ll feel seen, and you’ll be prepared for post-secondary education and the world. At Clark Atlanta University, I grew personally and academically. I knew that when I was leaving, I was going to be prepared to take on whatever was in front of me.