One the Job with Orok Orok
On the job with Orok Orok, Executive Director, Department of Student Engagement & Leadership at North Carolina Central University.
HBCUs have been recognized as places that, among other unique attributes, inspire engagement and social activism. Is that narrative alive today in the roles played by student affairs professionals and the student union?
HBCUs have created canvases for staff and faculty to inspire students to express themselves through unique mediums. Access and exposure to experiences that showcase the true state of the systems that impact our daily lives are amongst many of the demands from our students. Student affairs professionals have the unique ability to craft how we achieve our outcomes through new and innovative avenues of engagement allowing us to combine the aspirations of the students with mission-critical university objectives. The student unions have become our incubators for expression, and then units of mobilization for social change.
Nearly twice as many HBCU undergrads receive Pell Grants compared to the national average. How does the role you play take into account the additional financial needs many of these students face?
The reality is that, by design, we serve students that exist below many different national averages, including access to resources that support educational development through adolescence. Our role is to understand the averages and completely change the trajectory of where our students go, despite where they started. What powers my service to the underserved is the repeated unveiling of potential that would not have been, otherwise, unlocked had universities such as ours not existed. Financial need often impacts an individual’s sense of security, which we know can adversely impact mental health and optimal experiences. We constantly sharpen our administrative tools to graduate our students to accept their circumstances, differentiate through learning and engagement, and integrate their HBCU experiences into the greater society.
Small- and special-mission colleges face unique challenges today. What day-to-day challenges do you face in fostering success within the scope of your role at an HBCU?
One of the greatest things I have been able to do in my career is establish new protocols, procedures, and methodologies that foster high levels of engagement among students. Right-sized funding is commonly an issue when charged with the competing recruitment-retention-persistence models that measure student success. This challenge inspires me to continue to create university-unique engagement experiences that foster a sense of belonging and connection to their educational pursuits by re-engineering the utilization of available funding and maximizing total impact. Our ability to leverage relationships while sourcing the rich history embedded in our institutions becomes the tale of the tape we promote to continue through any plight.