This is part of an on-going series.
If you’d told Dr. Emmanuel Little as a Georgia College freshman he’d still be here 15 years later—he wouldn’t have believed it.
But something about Georgia College made him stay.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have a good amount of support here,” Little said. “There’s a confidence here in knowing, if I’ve got some great ideas, there’s a chance they’ll be supported. I want to pay that forward.”
Little knows he wouldn’t be where he is today—director of “Call Me MiSTER” and minority retention—without people who believed in and mentored him. The Macon native started out majoring in art, then got a degree in mass communication, thinking he’d become a “big-shot radio personality.”
Instead, he got a job after graduation in Georgia College’s Office of Admissions. Little later became the diversity retention coordinator in the former Office of Equity and Diversity. In 2014, he was asked to start “Call Me MiSTER.” The program originated in South Carolina to encourage males to become teachers—particularly black males. Currently, Georgia College has the first and only MiSTER program in the state.
“When it comes to planning an infrastructure of a program like this, you’ve really got to be intentional about what it is you’re doing, especially at a school like Georgia College,” Little said, “where we don’t have as much racial diversity as we would like.”
“We have challenges recruiting underrepresented students, and it’s double when you’re talking black males. Triple when you’re talking about black males who want to teach. Only 2 percent of all teachers nationwide are black males,” he said.
Diversity within the John H. Lounsbury College of Education is particularly important, Little said, because instructors will graduate to teach students from all walks of life.
Representation matters. When minority students see someone like them—they think this person has a common background and shared experience, he said. Seeing someone of the same color, gender identity, disability or economic status helps students realize, “If that person can do it, maybe I can too.”
“Students can’t be what they can’t see,” Little said. “If basketball players are the main thing you see black males doing visually, then you automatically think, well, that’s what I need to be trying to do.”
All departments at Georgia College are focused on becoming more diverse by hiring underrepresented faculty, offering scholarships and mentoring minority students. Administrators hope these efforts will produce an increase in student admission applications from diverse populations.
Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Veronica Womack obtained admission statistics to see how many college-eligible students are produced in Baldwin schools and surrounding counties.
The results were remarkable. In Georgia last year, about 16,000 underrepresented students—African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Hawaiians and Alaskan natives—were college-ready.
In Middle Georgia alone, more than 700 underrepresented students fit Georgia College’s definition of an academically-strong and involved student.
“We have some very high achieving, high performing underrepresented students right here in Middle Georgia, as well as throughout the state,” she said. “Our goal now is to figure out how to get them to Georgia College.”
Competitive scholarships, a good campus climate and diverse faculty are traditional ways to attract underrepresented students. Another way, Womack said, is to advertise minority students who’ve accomplished great things at Georgia College, like two alumni: Javier Becerra, ’12, an escaped refugee from Cuba, who founded the university’s Latino fraternity Lambda Sigma Upsilon and went into law; and Juawn Jackson, ’16, an African-American who served two terms as Student Government Association (SGA) president and now helps first-generation high school seniors apply for college.
“We may not have many scholarships,” Womack said, “but we have leadership opportunities for underrepresented students. We can’t rely on traditional tools the big schools use—we can’t compete with that. But we have other things to offer at Georgia College that make our students distinctive.”
Little has been in the foreground of this transformation—mentoring and helping underrepresented students successfully maneuver college. In addition to starting the state’s only Call Me MiSTER program, Little also took over Georgia College’s African-American Male Initiative (AAMI) in 2010. It’s a University System of Georgia initiative, specifically designed to help black males complete college successfully.
This year, AAMI had 17 members. One graduated in December 2018 and five more graduate in May. The first two graduates from “Call Me MiSTER” finished college May 2018. One now teaches in Wilkinson County and the other is pursuing a master’s in education. Three more MiSTERs graduate this month; one will remain at Georgia College to get his master’s.
“I see a tangible impact that I make on students every single day,” Little said. “When someone walks across the commencement stage, I can remember a time when he or she was crying in my office. Maybe they had failed an exam or they were trying to figure out how they were going to get through a semester. Seeing them graduate, and remembering those tough times, reminds me that I’m here for a reason.”
Eventually, Little hopes to gain enough resources to increase the number of MiSTERs from five to 20. He uses the “Rising MiSTER Academy” to recruit members. That summer program reaches out statewide to high school males and provides role models in the teaching profession.
Mentoring is a potent tool, giving students someone who genuinely cares about their wellbeing. Mentorship is also what gives the MiSTERs program its power of retention. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves; it’s a big problem nationally. Yet—in the MiSTERs program—more than 90 percent stay in education.
“Why? A big part of it is what we do in MiSTER to prepare them. We draw out that motivation,” Little said. “So, regardless of what happens in the teaching field, they understand they are there for a reason. They have a calling.”
At the beginning and end of every leadership seminar, MiSTERs recite their purpose: “To plant the seeds of dignity in children.”
That’s what Little does every day too—simply by his presence at Georgia College.
He shows students the impact of diverse representation.
“If the only images that you’re seeing are negative in the media, it’s a lot easier to stereotype people,” he said. “But if you’ve got a teacher you see every single day that is completely antithetical to that stereotype—then you’re going to have a completely different definition.”
“That’s what MiSTER is all about,” Little said, “showing something different to all students.”