As an aspiring English teacher during her undergraduate studies more than 20 years ago, Michelle Tucker’s ambition was to become a key leader within corporate America. Michelle’s aspirations led her to Webster University to pursue her graduate degree, which she completed in 2000. Michelle’s encounters with nurturing, farsighted professors at Webster University played a key role in refining her talents and maximizing her strengths in strategic planning, people management and employee development.
Today, the East St. Louis native is a senior vice president at bank of America, a respected pillar of the St. Louis business community and a key player among an emerging St. Louis business leadership class.
In many ways, Tucker’s story exemplifies some of the greatest challenges and opportunities universities confront today – enabling first-generation college students from diverse backgrounds to prepare for successful careers in business and, most important, in life.
We must persist to provide access to higher education to the next generation of Michelle Tuckers by setting a “moon goal” at every institution of higher learning in America. The concept of moon goals was introduced by President Kennedy in 1961. JFK’s vision was to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Many deemed the goal improbable, yet by 1969 an American flag was firmly planted there.
American universities should follow the same blueprint by setting moon goals equivalent to the one articulated by President Kennedy – a strategic objective that they are willing to pursue, unwilling to postpone and one they intend to achieve, regardless of the obstacles.
The challenge for colleges and universities is how to continue making education accessible to those who seek the empowering possibilities that come with the pursuit of knowledge. Part of this strategy will require a willingness to partner with corporations and nonprofits and all who appreciate the value of a diverse, highly qualified workforce. Prospering cities across America realize how critical their talent pool’s diversity matters in gaining a competitive edge and growing economically.
The role of higher learning institutions is integral to the success of this endeavor, and demographics is on their side. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that within the next 30 plus years, people of color will exceed 50 percent of the U.S. population. These changes present real possibilities for colleges and universities, particularly as many grapple with enrollment shortfalls and strive to reinvent themselves to stay relevant.
There’s an old African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” it will certainly take our combined efforts to achieve the moon goal we set. One institution cannot achieve this alone. Let’s work together to increase the impact of higher education across every community in America, one Michelle Tucker at a time.
Benjamin Ola. Akande is dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology and chief partnership officer of Webster University.