Newhouse School Hosts First HBCU Open House

The Newhouse School is seeking to strengthen connections with historically black colleges and universities through a new open house event for students from those institutions seeking to learn about graduate programs at the Syracuse University campus. 

The HBCU Open House event, held March 30-31, built on Newhouse’s commitment to prepare the next generation of leaders in communications fields serving an increasingly diverse nation and world, said Rockell Brown Burton, associate dean of inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility. Plans call for the open house to be held each year.  

Director of Washington programs Beverly Kirk (left) and assistant professor Keonte Coleman (right) stand at the front of the room and speak with students.
Director of Washington programs Beverly Kirk (left) and assistant professor Keonte Coleman (right) speak with students during the HBCU Open House at Newhouse. (Photo by Huimin Dong)

HBCU students usually receive a strong theoretical foundation in education but sometimes lack access to resources and facilities like Newhouse, Brown Burton said. She is a two-time HBCU graduate, with a bachelor’s degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and a master’s degree from Howard University. 

By establishing meaningful relationships with HBCUs, Brown Burton said Newhouse can expose students to the academic and research opportunities at one of the top communications schools in the country, send a message of inclusivity and understanding and showcase Newhouse’s deep network of alumni connections.  

“Diversity is more than just having people from different backgrounds,” Brown Burton said. “It’s about making sure that people from different backgrounds and levels of experience feel welcome, included and valued as human beings.”  

Attendees at Newhouse's HBCU open house event eat lunch in the I-3 Center in Newhouse 3.
Students at the open house event eat lunch in the I-3 Center in Newhouse 3. (Photo by Huimin Dong)

The first open house event drew 30 students and four faculty members from eight colleges and universities around the country to learn about graduate programs and entrepreneurship opportunities, study away and study abroad opportunities and meet faculty members who could become potential mentors. The event offered a way to build strong connections with fellow HBCU students in communications, she said.  

It can be “a little scary for a person of color or just people in general, to go from a space that they were comfortable with and that they’re used to, and step into something brand new,” said Dillard University senior Kalaya Sibley. She plans to attend Newhouse in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in public diplomacy and global communications. 

“This [event] kind of gives me that security, like I’ll be free to conquer,” she added. “Surviving not only in the program, but just in the world in general.” 

Two students talk at Newhouse's HBCU open house event in Newhouse's I-3 center.
Two students talk at Newhouse’s HBCU Open House event. (Photo by Huimin Dong)

At the open house, visiting students participated in events like a panel discussion about entrepreneurship and TikTok with Sean Branagan, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, and broadcast and digital journalism alumna Carmella Boykin ‘21. They met with advisors from the Career Development Center, learned about opportunities to study abroad and networked with other HBCU students and alums.  

Brown Burton said her goal is for the open house to lead to a partnership with HBCUs in collaborative exchange programs, travel experiences and increased engagement with Newhouse’s extensive alumni network, which “shapes and inspires the stories that new students will go on to tell.” 

Rockell Brown Burton stands at the front of Newhouse's I-3 center and talks to students attending Newhouse's HBCU open house.
Rockell Brown Burton, an associate dean, presents during the HBCU Open House. (Photo by Huimin Dong)

Kailan Dixon, a North Carolina A&T State University senior who also attended the event, recognized similarities between the alumni networks of the institutions. 

“HBCUs have really strong alumni connections … I want to go to grad school that also has that same sort of connection,” Dixon said.  

While Sibley hasn’t started her Newhouse program yet, she’s already thinking about her future after she earns her master’s degree.  “I know Newhouse often has alumni come back and talk at panels,” she said. “I actually want to be one of those people to not only return as a successful alum to Syracuse, but also to my HBCU. … It would mean a lot.” 

Analise Piemonte is a first-year student in the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.