Qwen Ballard: Advancing the Black Male Initiative
Qwen Ballard will receive his master’s degree in higher education administration on Saturday. He also earned his B.A. in business and marketing education with a concentration in entrepreneurship at NC State. He has held the position of program coordinator of the Black Male Initiative, has been active with the Higher Education Association and is originally from Wilson, NC.
What has BMI accomplished this year?
Throughout the year, BMI has worked with males of color in K-12, volunteering and explaining the benefits of pursuing a college education. This semester, BMI members participated in a program called Brothers United in Leadership Development, hosted by the College of Education.
BMI has also planned and hosted a College Day for students from the local Boy’s Club. These students spent the day visiting Hunt Library, participating in team-building activities and being encouraged to focus on their education.
Maintaining a 3.0 GPA as a collective group has been one of our greatest accomplishments over the last three semesters. Our goal is to reach a 3.2 GPA this semester.
The members of BMI have also worked on self-development, and I am excited to see them take on more leadership roles in the upcoming semester. These roles include orientation leaders, African American Symposium counselors, Alumni Association ambassadors and more.
What is unique and challenging about being Black at NC State?
I think it is important to acknowledge that every experience at NC State is unique and different. From my personal experience, I really appreciate the culture created on campus to help support Black students. For example, Multicultural Student Affairs and the African American Cultural Center do a great job of providing programs, activities and different ways to support Black students here on campus. Additionally, University Housing’s Black Male Initiative Living and Learning Community has made a profound difference in some of the Black males’ experiences here at NC State.
Based on my perspective, challenges that Black students face on campus can vary. Whether it be microaggressions, prejudice, or discriminatory acts, I feel as though the campus is sometimes not always as welcoming as I would like for it to be. Another challenge students face on campus is isolation. It is not uncommon for me to feel as though I am the only Black student in my class. I do believe NC State has made great strides in trying to address these issues on campus. However, there is always more work to be done.
What have been some of your most impactful experiences here at NC State?
Being on the NC State football team as a walk-on and being a program coordinator for the Black Male Initiative are the two main experiences that come to mind as I reflect on my six years here at NC State.
I had always dreamed about playing at a Division I institution. Being able to live out my childhood dream was amazing! By walking onto the team, I learned a lot about who I am as an individual and what I am capable of accomplishing. I also got to travel to places I have never been and created lifelong friendships along the way.
I feel as though being a program coordinator for the Black Male Initiative was the best way for me to give back to my community. When I reflect back on my undergraduate experience at NC State, I realized there were resources, experiences and opportunities I missed. By being in this position and being aware of all of the resources on campus, I feel as though I have been able to help the members adjust to college life and to develop holistically while utilizing various resources and opportunities I took for granted. Being in this position has also helped me to develop into a better student affairs professional and to incorporate what I learned in my courses in the higher ed program and apply it to my work.
I am most proud of completing my master’s degree. I have always dreamed of receiving a master’s degree and told my parents I would achieve this goal one day.
What led you to higher education and student affairs?
My role as a practitioner is to help students grow and develop as individuals. I have always wanted to help others through education. I developed this passion from talks with my father and mother about the importance of education. As I finished my undergraduate degree, I quickly realized that I still wanted to work with students and develop them as individuals. However, I did not want to be in a classroom setting. At the time, Dr. Allison Mitchall (my on-campus “mom”) was the diversity coordinator for the College of Education. She was such a positive mentor and support system for me throughout my undergraduate career. She reached out to me and decided that student affairs might be a good fit for me. After a couple of conversations I was sold on the idea and the rest is history!
What are your career goals?
I will be working at New York University as a residence hall assistant director. I am excited and looking forward to the next step in my career. My long-term career goal is to create a business or software to help teachers become more efficient in their work while also making it fun for students to learn through creative and engaging technology.
What is your advice to students thinking about going to grad school and/or pursuing their doctorate?
Ask questions! Find people in the potential programs you want to be in, schedule informational interviews and begin to develop relationships with those individuals. For the longest time, I knew I wanted to get a second degree. However, I did not even know where to begin. By asking those questions you can get great insight into what program you should choose and how it will benefit you as you move forward in your career.
Austin Butler is a communications intern in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.