A couple of weeks ago, accompanied by one of our advisors at Cumberland County College, I got the opportunity to meet with an impressive group of African-American males at Bridgeton High School. We spent an hour chatting about their aspirations for themselves and for their community. Despite their youth and short historical perspective, they spoke of what Bridgeton was. They spoke of the days of glory, comfort, bustling businesses that they had heard about from others much older than them. They spoke of past eras as if they had experienced them. They longed for the same type of vitality today. Most impressive was their articulation of how much their leadership, their generation’s leadership, is needed in the community.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is meeting with youth in Cumberland County, whether on our campus or in our community. A couple of months back, I met with a group of students at Vineland High School who were just so inspiring. The analytical skills of our local students is one of our most prized assets, in my opinion. The social capital that their lived experiences, combined with their formal education, have allowed them to develop and sharpen their intellect. They are also talented. Their musical, poetry, and dance performances are equally impressive. There is so much talent in our county. Our challenge is to connect them with the role models and mentors who can help them carve their path forward.
At the College, I meet regularly with groups of students and invite others that I run into over the course of the day to have a snack and chat. We have burgeoning entrepreneurs on campus, some of whom have launched their products and businesses while studying as students here. We have young scientists working on various prototypes and even a group of aspiring engineers working on an escape room. We have prolific writers, among other great talents.
As a resident of Cumberland, retaining our graduates in the county is a professional and personal mission. We want them to fly away from the nest, to gain experience, and to develop a broader world view. We also want them to come back. Over the next few months, we will be working with local Generation X and with millennial leaders and professionals who choose to remain in Cumberland to brainstorm and come up with a few strategies to help retain our best and brightest in the county. As the higher education institution in the county, so many of our best and brightest cross our threshold each semester. We want to play a role not only in their success, but in their retention as accomplished professionals.