Black in Time

School provides flexible options for adult students

 

Special to The Miami Herald

Life can be good, but many times challenging. Think about the balancing act adult students have while working, taking care of families, studying and giving service to the community at the same time.

In Miami, at the 2014 Florida commencement ceremony of the Union Institute & University, 70 adult students, with families and friends, celebrated such achievements and successes. Diverse in age, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, the graduates earned bachelor’s degrees in business management, criminal justice management, social work, elementary education, exceptional student education, early childhood education, and leadership.

This year is a double celebration. In addition to graduation, it marks the 50th year that the nonprofit Union has provided education for adults who seek academic programs to engage, enlighten, and empower them in a lifetime of learning and service.

At a pre-reception on June 21, the commencement speaker, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica, a Union alumna, praised the university for creating opportunities for busy professionals like herself to participate in higher education while continuing to work, serve businesses and communities. She commended the university on its first 50 years of “cutting edge thinking” and wished success for the future.

At commencement, Union Institute & University’s president, Robert H. Sublett, congratulated the graduates and challenged them to continue learning and serving their communities. He pledged the university’s commitment to continue to provide each student with a relevant and quality education through a flexible delivery model, and to encourage each student to find his or her voice and vehicles to transform lives and communities.

After commencement the graduates were abuzz with stories about how that day represented the fulfillment of lifelong dreams and how graduating from this university program allowed them to balance life’s challenges. Well wishes included families with babies in arms and strollers as well as relatives on canes and in wheelchairs.

At least one Miami family was represented by a second generation Union graduate. Tamara Ingram Key, a daughter of the late Robert B. Ingram and widow Delores Newsome Ingram. Robert earned his doctorate at Union in the 1980s. A member of the Miami-Dade County School Board he was a city of Miami police officer before becoming the first black chief of an urban police department (in the city of Opa-locka). During this year’s commencement ceremony, Tamara and her husband, Jeffrey Key, received their bachelor’s degrees in Criminal Justice Management. Jeffrey Key is the Opa-locka chief of police.

In previous years, and in a diverse community of students, Union Institute & University has educated other local law-enforcement administrators including Miami Police Chief Manny Orosa, Sweetwater Police Chief Jesus Menocal and North Miami Beach Police Chief Scott Dennis. Another Union graduate, Commander Anita Najiy, is the first woman assistant chief in the city of Miami police department.

Union Institute & University’s national notable alumni in higher education include George Pruitt, president of Thomas Edison College; Scott Miller, president of Bethany College; Charles Simmons, president of Sojourner-Douglass College; Mark Schulman chairman of the Higher Learning Commission, North Central; Arthur Keiser, chancellor of the Keiser Collegiate System; Lois Harris, former provost of the Cornish College of the Arts; and Michael O’Neal, former president of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College in the British Virgin Islands.

Union Institute & University’s bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs are designed to meet the needs of national and international adult students who study in classrooms, online, and one-to-one with credentialed, experienced faculty. The rigorous academic environment, faculty interaction, and collaboration with fellow students uses state of the art technology. Flexible schedules provide models for working students to manage the challenges of family, study time and community service.

Beginning in 1964, 10 university presidents worked together forming a consortium creating an alternative delivery model of higher education for adult students and to inform the field of higher education about what was learned in the process. The consortium evolved from the Union for Research and Experimentation in Higher Education in 1969, the Union Institute in 1986, and in 2001, was renamed the Union Institute & University.

Union Institute & University’s main campus is located in Cincinnati, with academic centers in North Miami Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Brattleboro, Vt.

Over decades the opportunity for self motivated adults, to earn degrees at Union based on scholarship, interests and search for purpose, came to the attention of a number of well known Miami –Dade educators including the late Carlton Fisher, the late Tee S. Greer, and the late Robert Ingram. All graduated with doctoral degrees from Union Institute & University.

Union doctoral graduates still active in the community is retired Miami police Sgt. Thomas K. Pinder; educator and NAACP activist Shirley Johnson; Miami-Dade school board member Larry Feldman; and Ben Gamla Charter School Director Lee Binder; and myself.

With a growing family and working full-time as an educational curriculum specialist at Miami-Dade public schools simultaneously, afternoons, nights and weekends, as a volunteer I created and operated the Black Archives Foundation, Chapman House and Kwanzaa Oratorical Contest, the Historic Overtown Folklife Village, Overtown Main Street, and Miami-Dade County’s Black Heritage Trail; developed four protégées; and wrote grants to acquire, restore and operate the Dorsey House and Overtown’s Lyric Theater. In 1996 I completed studies at Union with a doctoral degree in public hHistory.

Pinder, now president of the city of Miami’s Black Historic Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum, had a similar experience. He recently said: “For me, Union’s program was a transformative experience. It introduced me to readings, connections with mentors and experts in my discipline, and peer reviews that to help me structure new processes for problem solving in my career. Best of all scheduling made it doable for me to strike a balance between my job, studying and community service. In the decades to come I wish continued success to our dear alma mater, Union Institute & University.”

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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