News / Stewart Celebrates Black History Month by Supporting the Mission of Black Colleges

February 22nd / 2021


Stewart Celebrates Black History Month by Supporting the Mission of Black Colleges

Stewart is honored to support historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in their mission to invest in a new generation of engineers and architects, continue a vital legacy, uplift communities, and provide students opportunities to achieve their academic and professional goals.

What is an HBCU?

The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as:

“…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education].”

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

These institutions were critical to the education of African Americans from Reconstruction through legalized segregation, as Black students were routinely denied admission to traditionally White colleges and universities.

Today, HBCUs are a cornerstone of pride and tradition for many African Americans. These schools form the essential pillars of academic development for thousands of Black students and provide a cultural immersion and social connection that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Shaping Student Life

Stewart has played an influential role in shaping the campuses of several North Carolina HBCUs. The firm has enjoyed a collaborative relationship with North Carolina Central University (NCCU) over the past two decades. Projects include landscape architectural services for NCCU’s educational, science, and nursing buildings, residence halls, and the design of a memorial garden dedicated to the university’s founder Dr. James E. Shepard.

For over two decades, Stewart and the North Carolina Agricultural and Technology State University (NC A&T State University), based in Greensboro, have formed an enduring partnership characterized by mutual affinity and design excellence.

The following brief history of NC A&T State University describes the institution’s modest beginnings from a fledgling aspiration to a model of civil rights activism to a modern educational institution.

NC A&T State University

In 1891, the North Carolina General Assembly established the “Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race” in Raleigh as an annex to Shaw University (the oldest HBCU in the South). That same year, the school moved to Greensboro becoming the second college established through the Morrill Act of 1890 and the first college for Black people in North Carolina.

Though it began as a land-grant school to teach “practical agricultural and mechanic arts,” NC A&T is now a top-tier research university, with over 12,000 students currently enrolled. It is the largest historically black university in the nation and the number one producer of degrees awarded to African Americans in North Carolina. The university’s excellent science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is nationally recognized.

Civil Rights Sit-in at Greensboro Woolworth’s

NC A&T State University possesses a rich activist legacy and a firm place in history as a focal point for the Civil Rights Movement and nonviolent protests against legal segregation. On February 1, 1960, four NC A&T freshmen students, Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond walked to downtown Greensboro and “sat in” at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth’s. They refused to leave when denied service and stayed until the store closed.

Because of their courageous action, 25 other students from NC A&T and other Greensboro colleges and universities joined them the next day. During the next 10 days, students across the state participated in similar sit-ins. By the third week of February 1960, demonstrations had spread to at least 250 major US cities and towns in which over 400 demonstrations took place by the end of 1960. Woolworth’s was desegregated by the end of July 1960.

Stewart’s Work on the NC A&T Student Center

Stewart recognizes NC A&T’s cultural and historical heritage from its humble beginnings to mobilizing students in the Civil Rights Movement to its mission to equip high-achieving scholars to lead and serve. The firm’s involvement with the university has spanned two decades and continues to support and enhance NC A&T’s charge to educate the next generation of innovators and world-changers.

Stewart worked on several campus projects, including the biology, education, and science buildings and the Graduate Center, Robeson Theater, the clock tower, and, most recently, the new student center.

Originally built in 1969, NC A&T’s student union served as the “living room” of the campus. When considering a redesign for the beloved space, NC A&T wanted a student center that would serve as the heart of the campus and act as a multicultural hub for the student body. The design team, led by Vines Architecture, embraced this challenge by creating one of the most complex designs ever seen in the state.

Completed in 2018, the student center features numerous structural complexities, including long cantilevers throughout the entire building, a unique exterior wall system, and two expansive staircases. The three-story, state-of-the-art facility achieved LEED Silver®. The $70 million student center covers 150,000 square feet and contains several distinct areas, including a multicultural student union, 350-person ballroom, offices, dining center, bookstore, and meeting and study spaces.

The student center’s primary goal is to promote an involved community through the various services, amenities, and programs available to the campus.

Stewart provided structural engineering services for NC A&T’s Student Center. The steel-framed building integrates composite steel floors bearing on steel columns. The steel framing allows for long open spans throughout the building to accommodate large, open spaces for gathering. The new addition seamlessly ties into the existing building, providing a cohesive experience.

The student center received several awards, including the 2019 NCSEA National Excellence in Structural Engineering Award, the 2019 AIA Triangle Design Honor Award, and the 2019 ENR-Southeast Best University Project Award.

The center’s primary goal is to support a diversified array of programming that reflects the campus community’s need to enhance educational, cultural, and developmental social interaction. The center provides a welcoming environment at the heart of campus life, serving as a unifying force to honor each community member.

Raising up the Next Generation of Engineers

In 2020, 12.5% of Stewart’s new hires were HBCU alumni. One of those hires was NC A&T and Howard University alumnus Jason Hedley, PLS, who brings 12 years of experience to the Stewart Geomatics Practice.

In the fall 2020 edition of The Tarheel Surveyor, Jason discussed serving on NC A&T State University’s Geomatics Program Advisory Board and spearheading Stewart’s effort to endow a scholarship and internship program for the university’s geomatics students.

The idea of a scholarship endowment for NC A&T was birthed from a discussion between Geomatics Practice Leader Frank Mundy II, PLS, and Jason in early 2020. Those discussions pertained to the status of the overall surveying community and the geomatics program.

Furthermore, Stewart realized that the country’s social landscape was shifting. The company embraced the changing cultural climate by developing a Racial Equity Committee (REC). Founder and CEO Willy Stewart, PE, wanted to replicate a similar university’s scholarship program that embraced diversity, equity, and inclusion in the engineering field.

With the encouragement of Stewart’s senior leadership, Jason has worked diligently to help establish the endowment that will award two geomatics students $2,500 each per semester and provide a summer internship for one of those students with Stewart Geomatics.

“This support has helped me fulfill a personal desire to give back to the university, which has helped me build my career.”

Jason Hedley, PLS

The establishment of the scholarship endowment rests on three key objectives:

  1. Addressing noticeable lack of diversity within the overall surveying community;
  2. Supporting the growth of the NC A&T’s geomatics program by providing scholarship opportunities for the students while they pursue their degrees; and
  3. Providing a channel to nurturing and recruiting future geomatics professionals.

This scholarship is a direct reflection of Stewart’s appreciation of NC A&T’s geomatics program and the graduates it produces, two of which are current Stewart employees. Stewart is proud to be a partner with the university by supporting the future of geomatics in North Carolina.

Stewart DEI Committee’s HBCU Outreach

The Stewart Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee was birthed in June 2020 in direct response to the racial equity concerns highlighted by the tragic death of George Floyd. One of the committee’s goals is to expand Stewart’s relationship with local HBCUs and provide a scholarship within the NC A&T State University’s geomatics program, as previously mentioned.

However, Stewart’s partnership with local HBCUs does not stop there. While the firm also has long-standing relationships with schools like NCCU and Shaw University, the Stewart DEI Committee is always looking to strengthen and expand those connections in today’s environment. This includes supporting Shaw University in the fall of 2020 with a donation to support the purchase of 20 laptops for incoming first-year and transfer students.

Historically black colleges and universities have and continue to produce high-quality graduates, and Stewart is honored to support tomorrow’s leaders.

References

NC A&T State University. 2021. “Mission and Vision,” Retrieved February 22, 2021 (https://www.ncat.edu/about/initiatives/mission-and-vision.php).

NC A&T State University. 2021. “The A&T Four: February 1st, 1960,” Retrieved February 22, 2021 (http://www.library.ncat.edu/resources/archives/four.html).

NC A&T State University. 2021. “The Role of the Student Center,” Retrieved February 22, 2021 (https://www.ncat.edu/campus-life/student-affairs/departments/student-center/the-role-of-the-student-center.php).

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 2021. “5 Things to Know: HBCU Edition” Retrieved February 15, 2021 (https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/5-things-know-hbcu-edition).

Wikipedia. 2021. “North Carolina A&T State University,” Retrieved February 22, 2021 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_A%26T_State_University).

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