Why I Founded Colored Bird Institute?
I’ve engaged many students of Color who are intellectually curious, high-achieving, and innovative leaders on their campuses and in their communities, but lack access to information and/or encouragement to seek opportunities that will position them to leverage their skills and experiences that will help them advance academically and professionally. As an academically gifted first-generation student, I was often frustrated with the benign, exclusive policies of higher education. Despite the fact I’d been studying German since high school, earned a dual bachelor’s degree in German and sociology as a college undergraduate, and spent two years studying in Germany in high school and college, nobody had ever suggested I consider applying for highly competitive international study grants and/or other major fellowship opportunities. Fortunately, I’ve cultivated relationships with several mentors over the years who have supported my academic and professional ambitions. I know that access to such opportunities can be life changing. So now I’m on a mission to make competitive national and international academic and professional opportunities accessible to students of Color.
The United States’ capacity to be a powerful force in our interconnected global economy and community is tied to educational efforts enhancing Americans’ global competencies. The reality is that the ability to speak a foreign language and confidently navigate a society outside of North America’s borders are the kinds of skills essential to competing for well-paying jobs in the twenty-first century. For many students of Color, the road to an international exchange opportunity may seem not only “less traveled by,” but an unknown possibility altogether. A 2015 study by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans reported that only 5% of African American students’ study abroad, and reasons included lack of funding, mentorship, and anticipated racial animosity abroad. Rare opportunities such as President Barack Obama’s 2016 Executive Order, which made U.S. international exchange alumni (e.g. Fulbright) competitive for federal jobs, underscore the “gateway to success” selective programs afford. Figuring out how to break systemic barriers of access to such opportunities is important for both underrepresented ethnic minorities entering and graduating from college, as well as having a workforce representing U.S. companies abroad that reflect the nation’s diversity.