By: Dr. E. Joahanne Thomas-Smith
HOUSTON – It is no secret that Prairie View A&M University is Texas’ second oldest public institution of higher education in Texas —Texas A&M University is the oldest. It is also no secret that the University was designated as “University of the first class” in the 1984 Texas Constitutional Amendment that paired it with the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.
Quite an aspiration for an institution that began in 1876 on a former slave plantation, the Alta Vista Plantation, with eight students and three teachers who not only taught the students but took care of many other roles as well. Against that backdrop and despite many challenges of funding and disparate treatment attendant to being a historically Black college in a state that had a separate system of education for Blacks and Whites, the little school on hill in Waller County has not only survived but thrived. Drive around the campus and witness the beauty of the buildings, the water treatments complete with lakes, the presence of doctoral programs with the newest one starting in January 2014—Doctor of Nursing Practice, the finest residence halls to be found anywhere, and food service to write home about.
But what matters most?
The slogan popularized by the late Dr. Alvin I. Thomas is that “Prairie View Produces Productive People.” Students come to the University to earn a degree that is of quality and that will stand them in good stead in the professions, in more advanced study, in serving their communities, in being responsible citizens, and in being decent human beings who give back to those who helped them along the way. At the heart of that process are the academic leaders of a University. Each year as the new academic school year begins, the academic leaders take stock. They review the past year’s achievements and frankly look at where the benchmarks were not attained. Strategies for moving the needle forward are developed. As the Dr. E. Joahanne Thomas-Smith, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, tells her team, mostly the deans , associate provosts and executive directors, the activities of the day, month and year matter little if a new set of graduates are not better than the last. Educators struggle with being results oriented. If they show up, teach, advise, mentor some believe that they have done what they have been paid to do. But Dr. Thomas-Smith challenges the leaders and the faculty to put their shoulders to the wheel and work with a passion Io see each student do well. The outstanding faculty is the reason for success at the University. Among the top 34 historically Black colleges whose average first year earnings for graduates was revealed in a national study, PVAMU ranked number one.
What does spending time with deer on the RS Deer Ranch have to do with learning and earning?
Deer are clear on who they are. They have an instinct for responding consistently to leadership and share a common understanding of how to relate to one another for the common good of the herd. Their messages to one another are clear. Consequences of diverging from the path or going against the grain do not surprise them. According to Mr. Roy Douglas Malonson, he knows what he expects as producer of prize deer. He is willing to invest the money and the time. He assesses the risks and crafts strategies to manage them so the risks do not manage him or is operation. At the RS Deer Ranch, the academic leaders from Prairie View A&M University took in the beautiful views on the 250 acre ranch, inhaled the freshest of air, enjoyed great food but most of all, recommitted themselves to batting down the hatches this year. They were charged by Mr. Malonson to come out of their discipline based boxes and talk to one another about collaborations and partnerships that will help students to be educated more broadly. Mrs. Shirley Malonson corroborated her husband and business partner’s message that today’s students need to learn how to make employment for themselves and for others. They need to learn the value of a dollar and start saving to start a business or make an investment while in college and not wait until they are furloughed or otherwise displaced from a job to start thinking like entrepreneurs.