By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Since her selection to serve, originally on an interim basis, as president of Fairfield’s Miles College in 2019, Bobbie Knight has increased enrollment and funding and built partnerships, both local and national.
Less than a year after Knight became the first woman president of Miles, the Miles College Board of Trustees elected to make her permanent in March of 2020.
Since that time, Miles has seen enrollment over 1,500, a number not seen since 2017 and has seen a 500 percent increase in private gifts and a more than 1,100 percent increase in public and foundation gifts. Here are a few highlights from President Knight’s tenure:
Miles receives its largest-ever single donation of $1 million from NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. Barkley said he had gotten to know Knight, and the gift is something “I really wanted to do. To have a female president is a big deal. I want to help Bobbie be as successful as she can be.”
The previous fall, Barkley had visited the campus of Miles for a pep rally, and Knight said he was excited to contribute to the school.
“When he found out I was coming to Miles as interim president, he reached out to me,” Knight said. “You normally don’t get people that say, ‘What can I do to help?’ Normally, it’s “How can you help me?’ That was amazing to me.”
Miles partners with Apple Inc. and Tennessee State University, which gives the school technology and access to training in programming, as well as connection to a network of other HBCUs.
Faculty leaders from Miles College will learn about coding and app development. As part of that ongoing professional development, educators will explore ways to engage with learners using Apple’s own curriculum, which uses its Swift programming language.
Knight says Miles College and other HBCU students will play a “pivotal role” in the “future of global technological advancement and innovation.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miles opens a wellness center for students and faculty. In addition to being staffed with one doctor, one nurse practitioner and a mental health counselor, the center also functions as a COVID testing site.
“It is always my intent, as the president of Miles College, to make sure that we all remain well physically and emotionally,” says Knight, at the ribbon-cutting for the wellness center, which will play a pivotal role in providing preventative medicine and health care education.
Miles begins a $2 million collaboration with IBM to help faculty and students learn technology skills. Specifically, the partnership helped to train in technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, data science and cybersecurity, as well as cloud and quantum computing.
Knight says IBM recognizes the “value of investing in HBCU students as current and future leaders and innovators in the technology workforce . . . While the digital divide has historically placed many students at a technological disadvantage, this initiative will absolutely help narrow that gap,” Knight says.
Miles receives a grant from Alabama Power and its parent company, the Southern Company, to support the Miles College Empowerment Center for Digital Excellence in Careers and Education, known as the M-Power Center. The center will focus on STEM education, capacity building and training components. An e-sports training arena, student support technology services and a help desk are among the other features planned for the M-Power Center, which will also have computers and Wi-Fi access available for students.
Miles partners with Swiss bank and financial services company UBS, which provides financial literacy and wellness instruction to Miles College students. UBS will deliver financial literacy programs and workshops to Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) students through Everfi, a social impact education technology company, to create pathways that open up financial services career opportunities and to close the income disparity gap for Black people in America.
Miles also joins eight other HBCUs in the Deep South Mobility Collaborative (DSMC), a Hope Enterprise Corporation project, funded with $130 million from investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs.
DSEMC taps the expertise and capabilities of Hope Enterprise Corp., Goldman Sachs, institutions of higher learning and cities to provide access to financing, business education classes and business support services, leveraging the private, public and nonprofit sectors.
This effort focuses on stabilizing and strengthening small businesses and bolstering employment in a region characterized by entrenched poverty and racial disparities.
The partnership with Miles will make the college an “incubator for Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs in our region,” Knight says.
Miles begins a partnership with Lawson State Community College (LSCC) to guarantee admissions for more students from the community college. After completing 64 transferable hours or obtaining an associate’s from LSCC, Miles College will provide admissions to Lawson State students and/or alumni who possess at least a GPA of 2.0 in their core curriculum or a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0.
Knight said the agreement will have a long-lasting impact for both institutions. “The most significant impact will be for the students of both campuses, and specifically, the [LSCC] students who will find a home at Miles College,” Knight said.