New Group to Support, Engage Black Alumni and Students

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Tesha Nesbit FA19 Commencement
Tesha Nesbit ’93 speaks at a commencement ceremony at Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s Alumni Society recently opened a new chapter in the college’s Black history – an affiliate programming group (APG) known as the Behrend Black Leadership Alumni Coalition (BBLAC).

This summer, when college leadership identified a need to reach out to individual subsets of alumni, one of the first groups they wanted to reach out to was Behrend’s Black alumni, as it’s one of the largest segments of the alumni population.

The initiative began as a conversation among college administration, faculty, staff, and alumni to explore opportunities to celebrate diverse voices and viewpoints.

“Many members of the Behrend team were instrumental in bringing BBLAC to life,” said Kristen Comstock ’06, assistant director of alumni relations. “We recognized Black alumni are an integral part of the Behrend Alumni Society. We sought input from alumni and campus community to enhance our relationships with Black alumni.”

After months of collaboration, BBLAC was chartered to serve as a direct connection for Black alumni to share their unique perspectives and engage with current and potential Black students. Spearheaded by a group of Black Behrend alumni, the group is the first APG the Behrend Alumni Society has had in at least dozen years.

“We believe that establishing a specific APG for Black Behrend alumni members will improve relations with an important Behrend constituency,” said BBLAC president Brandon McGraw, a 2009 Accounting and Finance graduate who is now the senior manager of accounting operations at The Knot Worldwide, Inc. “We further believe this group will help Behrend leadership guard against systematic biases and mitigate the challenges faced by Black Students as they pursue a Penn State degree.”

BBLAC has hit the ground running with a robust membership and a board of directors who have already formed several committees around the areas of campus engagement, professional development, coalition events, collegiate recruitment, fundraising, and more.

A donation from alumna Tesha Nesbit, a 1993 Communications graduate and director of diversity and inclusion for Erie Insurance Group, will help advance BBLAC’s mission (See BBLAC’s mission statement below).

“Penn State pride pervades the association; we have alumni all over the world,” Nesbit said. “I want to do my part to ensure that Black Behrend students have the full scope of support they need to be inspired and successful in the classroom and in our communities. If we can help them preserve this rich legacy of excellence that is a high-quality education, which has not been equally afforded to everyone, then they also become historians and models for generations to come.”

Comstock is excited about working with BBLAC to expand and enhance current Behrend Alumni Society events and initiatives.

“I’m looking forward to working with this wonderful and enthusiastic group of volunteers as we plan meaningful events for our Black alumni,” she said. “BBLAC leaders are engaged and I’m really looking forward to the programs that connect our Black alumni to current and prospective Behrend students of color.“

While the pandemic currently presents  challenges to hosting in-person events, BBLAC is developing virtual events, including a professional development offering for students, and handwriting notes to accepted Black students encouraging them to attend Behrend.

“They’re also planning a Black Alumni Reunion event this fall for Behrend’s Parents, Families, and Alumni Weekend, which I can confidently say we all hope will be an in-person event this year,” Comstock said.

MISSION OF BBLAC

The mission of the Behrend Black Leadership Alumni Coalition (BBLAC) Affiliate Programming Group is to provide a direct connection for the college’s Black alumni to share their unique perspective as alumni. BBLAC is positioned to: engage with current Black students to support educational opportunities; mentor current Black students as they make the transition to higher education; provide a conduit for Black alumni to advise Behrend leadership; assist in recruiting Black students; help develop greater financial support for Black students; facilitate allyship; and help improve the overall educational environment for students of color.”

Leadership/Board of Directors

Executive Board

  • President: Brandon McGraw ’09
  • Vice President: Adell Coleman ’09
  • Treasurer: Jeremy O’Mard ’13
  • Secretary: Angela Coston Jones ’95
  • Emerita: Conchita Dixon ’97

Committee Chairs

  • Conchita Dixon ’97, Fundraising
  • Tesha Nesbit ’93, Professional Development
  • Shelley Askew Floyd ’92, Campus Engagement
  • Jeffrey Grant ’90, Membership
  • Stanley Husband ’90, Collegiate Recruitment
  • Sasha Singh ’09, Coalition Events

To support BBLAC with a donation, visit raise.psu.edu/BBLAC. To join the alumni group, visit behrend.psu.edu/alumni/alumni-organizations/bblac.  

Put a Little Love in the World

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

RAK

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Jackie DeShannon’s words ring as true in 2021 as they did in 1965.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, why not put a little love in the world?  Here are some pandemic-friendly Random Acts of Kindness and other good-deed ideas from the Office of Civic and Community Engagement.

Behrend-Specific Acts of Kindness

  • Volunteer to support our students who are in quarantine and isolation (staff and faculty only). Get more info or sign up to help
  • Give money or donate food and/or personal care items for packages that are delivered to students in quarantine and isolation. See the graphic below for a list of items needed and how to donate them.
  • Reach out to an office/department that has been essential in keeping campus open and our students safe and cared for during this time. An acknowledgment is enough but sending a treat would be even sweeter. A few ideas: candy, donuts, flowers, popcorn, or cookies.
  • Message someone you know has been struggling with the circumstances brought about by COVID-19. Some staff and faculty members are working extremely long hours, others have had their hours reduced, some may have lost loved ones during this time, while others may be feeling isolated or overwhelmed.
  • If you are a current student, join a service club at Penn State Behrend, such as the Random Act of Kindness club, Reality Check, Circle K, or Project Paws. You can find a list of service-oriented clubs here.

Fifteen General Random Acts of Kindness

  • Paint small rocks and place them around campus, parks, or other public areas for others to find. Find directions and lots of ideas on Pinterest.com.
  • Leave a note and water or snacks for delivery drivers.
  • When you’re getting coffee or a snack at a fast-food restaurant, pay for the car behind you.
  • When you get great service, call the number or take the survey printed on your receipt and praise the worker who helped you. Those comments do get back to the workers.
  • Leave positive online reviews for restaurants or businesses you frequent. If you buy items from Etsy, take the time to write a short review; sellers are rewarded with more visibility when they get good reviews.
  • Whenever possible, try to buy local and support small businesses, even if it costs a few dollars more. Those businesses need you now more than ever.
  • Add encouraging messages to a public sidewalk using chalk, or just draw something colorful to share your art with the world.
  • Write a positive message on a sticky note and put it on a bathroom mirror or some other public place.
  • Start a virtual book club. It’s as easy as picking a book and inviting fellow readers to join you in a future Zoom discussion of the book. Many people are longing for connection today and books provide a shared experience and brief escape from reality.
  • Call the older people in your life, whether your parents, grandparents, or friends. It’s likely they are feeling especially isolated and would welcome the opportunity to talk.
  • When you brush snow off your car on a snowy day, do the same with a few other cars around you.
  • Set up a Zoom meeting with young relatives – even kindergarteners can handle a tablet or phone meeting. This past year has been draining for parents of young children. It’s likely they will relish the break while their little ones talk your ear off and show you all their toys.
  • Offer to tutor younger relatives or friends struggling with remote learning. Not only will you help them but explaining concepts can help you better understand them yourself.
  • Check out the wish list for a local animal shelter (most have one online) and see what items you might be able to donate or collect.
  • Be considerate of others – hold the door for someone behind you, return your grocery cart, let some go ahead of you at the grocery store or in traffic, and, of course, wear your mask.

If nothing here speaks to you, Chris Fox, assistant director of Civic Engagement and Smith Chapel, suggests simply focusing on putting yourself in another person’s shoes and go from there.

“Any act that demonstrates empathy will have a positive impact,” Fox said. “Empathy is a great tool for healing and can help us get through difficult times.”

COVID care boxes