Building on Resilience: Dr. Terrell Strayhorn

TERRELL STRAYHORN, student advocate and professor of Urban Education at Lemoyne Owen College, brought his message of educational success to Prairie View A&M University on September 26, 2019, for the MACH III’s Building on Resilience series.

“Dr. Strayhorn is the author of over 200 scholarly publications. He is an internationally recognized student success scholar and the foremost authority on issues of equity and diversity,” said Dr. Fred A. Bonner II, executive director of the MACH III Center, who has cowritten a book with Strayhorn. “This is the sixth installation of Building on Resilience, the lecture series. So far, we have had a wealth of impactful speakers.”

Strayhorn’s message of purpose and responsibility focused on the reason students attend college – to get a good job. He spoke on the “interesting set of concepts that will inform what we do in higher education at the administrative, teaching, and learning levels, but even more specifically on the individual level.”

Asking four basic questions, Strayhorn stressed the importance of purpose: Where are you headed, how will you get there, who will go with you (and who won’t), and what will you do when you get there?

Accomplishing success is important because employers want graduates who know how to communicate effectively. “The one story you should be able to tell well is your story. No one should ever make you feel ashamed of your story,” he said.

Strayhorn asks “What’s our goal? Why are we here?” as he describes the college experience as a gathering of likeminded individuals. “Regardless of our physical differences, our minds are alike. The focus on resilience, the focus on education brought us together to reach change.

“Resilience is the ability to respond and recover from setback. It requires a certain mindset,” Strayhorn said. “Regardless of our differences, what brought us here is tonight is that our minds are alike. Whether it is MACH III, the focus on resilience and education.”

Education is designed to enlarge one’s experience. The word education in Latin is “educare” – it means to draw out the light. “Prairie View exists in part to help students draw out the light,” said Strayhorn, who admits he found out things about himself as a student that led him toward a career in education.

“What I learned is that everything I could not do in terms of my height and my size, I could excel academically,” he said. “All of these things taught me that although I could not master athletics, I did have some skills. “When I got older, I started to realize that I had certain skills. I used those skills to find success for myself in my social relationships, in classrooms, with my teachers, and ultimately it charted a path for me to college.”

Strayhorn said he has found – through research, interviews, and surveys – that same scenario is true for many students.

“One of the first things we have to do is affirm that all students can learn, and all students have skills and abilities. Sometimes it’s qualities like resilience that become their real strengths that we don’t detect it because they don’t look like athletic strength or they don’t look like musical strengths,” he said. “They are hard to discern but nonetheless important. Those kinds of things allow you to make certain transitions in life and college is one of those points where students have to make certain transitions.”

For the faculty, staff and administrators – there is a real challenge.

“The moment we admitted these students, we made a commitment to them. The commitment is shown in our mission statement. The commitment is, “We will do all we can to support you to succeed,” Strayhorn said.

“In higher education, quite often, we operate as if we have no commitment to the student after we admit them. In fact, that is the beginning of commitment. It means we will pour all of our resources into making sure that in four years… we’ll get you out of here. That’s not saying it’s our responsibility only, students certainly have a responsibility in this equation, but institutions do as well.”

Strayhorn told the students in attendance, “Be sure by the time you graduate, get 120 credits, you get an education. Don’t just get a degree, get an experience.”