June 9, 2011

Since 2009, the LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative (BMLI) has been committed to improving the awareness of black male issues and the recruitment, retention and graduation of black males at LSU. At the core of the organization is the Fellows Program, an academic, professional and social support system for LSU black male students. 

For LSU junior Johnny Williams, the organization’s name - Black Male Leadership Initiative – says it all.

“The organization leads by example,” said Williams. “The meaning of the organization comes from its name – Black Male Leadership Initiative. It initiates and triggers a spark in the students by providing examples, role models and mentors that allow the students to witness and receive guidance from other black male successes. In doing so, it allows the black male student to become a success of his own.”

The 2011 cohort consists of thirteen fellows, six of whom are engineering students. They include: Brian Carrington, a junior from Birmingham, Ala., pursuing a degree in civil engineering; Taylor James-Lightner, a junior from Little Rock, Ark., pursuing a degree in chemical engineering; Jared Rousell, a junior from South Vacherie, La., pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering; Phillip Thomas, a junior from Port Allen, La., pursuing a degree in electrical engineering; Johnny Williams, a junior from New Iberia, La., pursuing a degree in  electrical engineering; and Isaiah Woodson, a sophomore from Richmond, Va., pursuing a degree in chemical engineering.

In establishing the BMLI, LSU recognizes the unique challenges of black male college students. According to the Engineering Workforce Commission, African Americans and Hispanic Americans represented less than 15 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2010.  

The organization’s three core areas – recruitment and enrollment, retention and performance, and graduation and beyond – are designed to assist the university’s black male student population meet their higher education needs.

Through academic success workshops, career development seminars and community service projects, the LSU BMLI fosters meaningful experiences for the program’s fellows. From networking with community leaders to lending a hand in local service projects, the organization encourages camaraderie and success among its participants.

“This organization shows how much the LSU faculty cares for its minorities on campus,” said Woodson. “It provides the opportunity to meet other students and mentors in your field who can give you support when you most need it. The organization’s positive energy encourages other black students at LSU to send the same message BMLI sends across the community.”

Fellows from BMLI, along with the Young Leaders Academy of Baton Rouge, recently participated in a community service project sponsored by the Center for Planning Excellence.

The BMLI and Young Leaders Academy built and restored fencing and a platform for the Stamp of Hope Garden at the corner of 12th and South streets in Old South Baton Rouge, or OSBR, the 3-square-mile community that lies between the north gates of LSU and downtown Baton Rouge. The Center for Planning Excellence, or CPEX, and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation currently oversee the project and hope to make OSBR one of the most livable areas of the city.

Both Williams and Thomas participated in the service project with fellow BMLI fellows who served as section leaders, engaging and directing the Young Leaders, as they organized each group’s task. The engineering students were thrilled to use the leadership skills they’ve learned as BMLI Fellows to direct the Young Leaders and serve as positive role models for them.

“For me it meant a whole lot,” said Williams. “It allowed us to engage in the community, which is always a good thing. We also were able to gain, recognize and encourage skills we have learned and share them with others coming after us. A simple task as creating a garden's fence was able to give much to us as leaders and as a community.”

For Thomas, the service project signified more than giving back to the community. It was an opportunity for him to connect with the Young Leaders. He used the experience to learn more about the young men and motivate them to be successful.

“I wanted them to know that I came from an inner city school just as the majority of them did, but ending up at a great university is something that they can do as well,” said Thomas.

"Having the assistance of these volunteers helped us finish the project on time and made a positive impact on the community garden and how the neighbors and passers-by perceive this new community space," said Marcelle Boudreaux, CPEX economic development project manager.

The OSBR event was just one of a variety of events that BMLI fellows participated in this year. Fellows also participated in a tour of Northwestern Mutual of Baton Rouge, a stress management seminar; an inter-organizational lecture series headed by LSU Law Center Professor Christopher J. Tyson; and another service event on the LSU MLK Day of Service.

The College of Engineering is dedicated to actively recruiting minority students. The Office of Diversity facilitates and enhances the College’s efforts to increase participation and graduation rates of women and underrepresented minority students (undergraduate and graduate) and recruit and retain high quality women and underrepresented minority faculty. 

To learn more about the BMLI Fellow program, visit their website.


Article excerpted from LSU media release and additional information added by Aariel Charbonnet, College of Engineering public relations graduate assistant. For more information, contact Cassie Arceneaux, assistant director of communications, Engineering, carcen6@lsu.edu or 225-578-0092.

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