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 Kiera Bowens, Director of Special Projects for the Office of Student Experience, below.

I didn’t fully appreciate my experience at a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) right away. It wasn’t until I left that I learned the value and importance of my education at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).

When I visited UAPB, I immediately felt connected. I enjoyed the family feel, the resources and supports available to students, and there was a large population of students from Chicago.

Once I enrolled, I stayed busy. I studied English and minored in education. I was editor-in-chief for the yearbook, and I worked in the campus cafeteria. Wednesdays were some of my favorite days on campus because they were “Dress to Impress Wednesdays.” Everyone would get so excited to wear their best professional clothes. It was a day we especially prided ourselves on our appearance.

Kiera Bowens in the cafeteria at UAPB.

One of the things I loved most about UAPB was the space to “fail forward.” We were given resources and opportunities to try new things, whether that was a club, research, or hosting an event. While working in the cafeteria, the other cafeteria workers and I learned a lot about event planning when we put on “Chicago Night.” The manager gave us the budget to order food and supported us in planning it. It turned out to be a success and something we all learned a lot from. In fact, we had a lot of moments at UAPB where we learned lessons that weren’t necessarily in books.

Looking back, I now fully grasp the gravity of my HBCU education. I learned from professionals who have shared experiences and similar backgrounds as me. They heard me, and they understood me. My HBCU education taught me how to be resourceful, to strive for perfection, and gave me the confidence to go after every opportunity I’m interested in. These are still valuable to me today.

The community at UAPB felt like family. The staff reminded me of aunts and uncles who looked out for you when you were away from home. One employee opened her home to about 30 students who could not make it home for the holidays. Just recently, the student activities coordinator traveled from Arkansas for the funeral service of one of my classmates when they passed away. Even after all those years, we weren’t just a number to him, we’re still family.

I was happy to find that sense of community again at City Colleges, and I try to develop those strong relationships in my work here. My advice to any student considering transferring to an HBCU is that City Colleges is a great pipeline to an HBCU. You’ll find many of the same values and support in both schools.

Some of the greatest professionals and notable Black figures have attended HBCUs and made amazing contributions to society. Just to be a part of that rich HBCU legacy is dynamic.