By Anthony Cook
Talladega College might be transitioning its leadership, but progress at Alabama’s oldest historically Black college and university is pressing forward.
In August, Lisa Long assumed the position of acting president at Talladega College while officials conduct a national search for a permanent president.
In the meantime, Long is being much more than a placeholder.
“I’ve been at the institution for 20 years,” she said. “I started out as a field coordinator in social work, then was promoted to chair of the social work department about four years later, and then dean of social sciences and education, and then provost. I had been in that role for eight years, so I feel like I’ve been prepared for the next leadership role.”
As acting president, an area of focus for Long continues to be on increasing enrollment. The college has seen record numbers the past three years, and she hopes to continue that trend.
“We’re funded through our enrollment, so it’s always important to increase those numbers,” she said. “We have 1,201 students currently, and we’ve been growing over the past three years.”
Another goal is to continue enhancing academic offerings. On Aug. 30, Talladega College launched a Master’s in Business Administration program, which is the school’s second master’s-level program.
“We had 58 students sign up, so we’re off to a great start,” she said. “We’ve talked about a master’s in criminal justice and psychology, and possibly bringing back our engineering program at an undergraduate level. We have the interest from students, so we are basically just working with faculty to put the programming together and get an approval through SACSCOC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges) to offer the new programs.”
Long-term goals include a new academic building, which becomes more necessary as academic offerings increase.
Building new structures is becoming a norm at Talladega College. In 2019, the school cut the ribbon on a dorm, student activity center and museum.
“The reception has been great,” Long said. “The students use the Activity Center every day. They’re excited about it. It’s a beautiful building.”
The school recently completed a multipurpose field that will be used for band practice, community events and Talladega College Tornado soccer games.
“Right now, we use the field at Choccolocco Park in Oxford,” Long said, “so this will allow us to have our own soccer games here.”
Additionally, a feasibility study will be completed in January to determine whether the college will relaunch its football program. “They’re looking at the economic impact; interviewing constituents from the community, other stakeholders, donors, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and students to see if it is feasible for us to have football,” Long said.
The last time Talladega College had a football team was in 1942, and the program won two national championships before it was discontinued. Establishing a team is a process, so there’s no timeline yet for when the school could field a team even if the feasibility study supports it.
In the meantime, there are plenty of other developments to keep the campus excited about what’s coming.
Civil Rights Garden
A Civil Rights Garden is under construction. It will honor Hank and Billye Aaron, who have contributed more than $700,000 in scholarship money to Talladega College students through the Chasing the Dream Foundation; Arthur Bacon, a renowned local artist; Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young, who met on the campus of Talladega College for an Alpha Phi Alpha convention; and Hank Thomas, one of the 1961 Freedom Riders.
The Civil Rights Garden will have sculptures of each person, and a marker recognizing state Rep. Barbara Boyd, whose district includes Talladega College.
The idea for the garden is part of efforts to have Talladega College included as an official stop along Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail. The garden will be on the plaza of the recently constructed Dr. William R. Harvey Museum of Art, which houses the historic Amistad murals.
Part of Talladega College’s short- and long-term goals is enhancing the technological infrastructure, including a project to outfit 50 classrooms with Echo 360, a lecture capture system.
“It allows us to capture lectures for two years, so if a student receives an incomplete or misses class related to band or athletics or choir, they can come back and review their lecture for up to two years,” Long said. “We’re getting the Echo 360, plus basic technology for each faculty member to have access to a computer on a cart with a microphone, all of that. We have not had that in every single classroom.”
That technology is expected to be installed by December.
Fast Track Program
The college is finishing renovation of a facility across from the Callanan Gymnasium that will house Fast Track, Talladega College’s accelerated adult degree program. It’s also expected to be complete in December.
That facility will house faculty for the master’s-level computer information systems program. “It’s a completely online program, but we’ll house the faculty there where they’ll be able to complete documents and syllabi, talk to students and have meetings,” Long said.
The college has completed an application through the Department of Defense to start a cybersecurity center on campus.
“There’s a house that we’ll renovate for the cybersecurity center, and we’ll provide training for agencies, and our students will get hands-on training,” she said. “We’re seeking partnerships with Anniston Army Depot, Homeland Security and agencies similar. An alum, Essye Miller, who worked for the Department of Defense, has already made a significant contribution for the project.”
The Beacon Initiative
The Beacon Initiative is a new initiative through the Federal Bureau of Investigation that encourages minorities to pursue employment and internship opportunities with the FBI. Officials with the initiative have visited Talladega College with the goal of creating a pipeline for that career field.
The HBCU experience
Long said that adding state-of-the-art amenities and broadening academic offerings at the state’s oldest HBCU creates a unique experience for students.
“We have always allowed our students to speak about their feelings and opinions and just be themselves. We also allow students through various Title 9 workshops to share their take on social justice issues. From our perspective, we think students are able to express themselves without feeling that they are in jeopardy at all,” she said. “I think the family environment, the individual class attention (set Talladega College apart). We have smaller numbers and more one-on-one attention for students.”
Long said her philosophy about education is to support students and equip faculty.
“I think all students can learn,” she said. “There has to be nurturing in the classroom, and that’s something Talladega College has always been known for, treating the students as if they are very important to the institution. You have to have the faculty and staff in place that can teach students from all aspects, and then provide the necessary resources to make sure the students are successful.”