Pan-African Student Success Center: Position Students for Success
Five years ago, Roryana Bowman moved with her two children and partner from her hometown of Columbus, Ohio to California, with plans to complete her degree in American Sign Language.
“I’m passionate about the deaf community. I’m passionate about sign language. I want to be an ally to the deaf community,” said Bowman, interim coordinator of the Pan-African Student Success Center at Cal State San Bernardino. “I wanted to move to a place that’s warm and has ample opportunities for me to specialize in performance interpreting, like plays and concerts.
“But life had other plans,” she said, laughing.
“If you had asked me five years ago, ‘Would you like a career in education?’ I’d say, ‘Hmm. I’m gonna have to pass on that one.’ But here I am in higher ed, working for the Pan-African Student Success Center,” she said.
“Passions don’t necessarily reflect what you were meant to do. My gift is to lead, my gift is to inspire others. My gift is to connect with students.”
Bowman’s gifts — leadership, inspiring others and making connections — have defined her academic career, as both a student and an administrator.
After arriving in California, she enrolled at Riverside Community College and soon became president of the Ujima Club. She completed two years of coursework in communications in just one year with a 3.6 GPA, and was selected commencement speaker, representing the Class of 2020. She’ll complete her associate degree in American Sign Language this spring.
As a communication studies major at CSUSB, Bowman further honed her leadership abilities, serving as co-president of the Black Student Union, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, vice president of the African American Sisterhood and student representative for the Black Faculty, Staff and Student Association.
In August 2022, she was appointed to her current position and uses her leadership skills to connect with students, focusing on their well-being and success as they tap into the center’s many services. “The center is open to all students on campus, but our primary focus is our Pan-African students,” who comprise less than 4 percent of the CSUSB student body, Bowman said.
Created in 2016, the center promotes and supports students’ sense of self-worth, with a focus on developing six key areas: academic excellence, cultural awareness, leadership development, personal development, proactive civic and community engagement, and civic engagement for people of the African Diaspora, according to the center’s website.
“A lot of our Black students have come from a K-12 system where they were one of only a few Black students, and then come to a higher-education setting where they expect to see more people like them, but they still may be the only one in their class,” she notes. “What does that say about the cultural support that they’re getting through the college experience?
“The Pan-African Center serves as a space for Pan-African students to come and get that support, to be around like-minded students, to be around people who can really understand them on a cultural level, and a place for allies of Pan-African students to more fully understand how they can be better allies.”
Today, Bowman’s goals as the center’s coordinator stem partially from her own experience. Last semester she asked the center’s graduating student assistants what they planned to do after graduation. “They said, ‘I’m not really sure. I haven’t figured it out.’
“Well, that was also me. When I graduated, I didn’t know. I didn’t really have enough time to apply for jobs because I was juggling all these classes and other responsibilities,” she said. “But there are too many students like me who graduate and don’t really know what their next step is. My goal for the center is to eliminate that.”
Her top priority “is ensuring that we are graduating students who are positioned for success. Too many students don’t know the first steps to apply for a job. They don’t know how to write a successful resume or an impactful cover letter. They don’t know effective interviewing techniques. They don’t have the tools to be successful and to stand out. At the same time, we’re telling them, ‘Congratulations, you graduated, you have your degree. Now go out and be successful.’”
In response, Bowman has created a series of weekly workshops for students “who would like to invest in their professional success and build their skills so they’re ready to go out into the professional world.”
Bowman emphasized that it’s important that students start their after-graduation planning early, so they don’t feel overwhelmed during their last semester.
The workshops, held each Friday, focus on three areas: the job search, from writing and fine-tuning resumes and cover letters to identifying salary requirements; securing career-appropriate internships; and finally, negotiating job offers.
“The goal is to holistically prepare students,” Bowman said. “We will also discuss creating healthy boundaries within the workplace, how to address microaggressions in the workplace, dealing with imposter syndrome in the workplace, and validating your opinions and ideas in your chosen profession.”
Bowman is also actively reaching out to community partners to find internship opportunities that will build on students’ career success. “I’m in full support of students being employed in the field that they’re passionate about,” she says. “There’s no reason why every Pan-African student on this campus should not be in a paid internship in their field.”
And importantly, Bowman says, the center serves as advocates for students. “A lot of students spend more time with us than they do their families, and they won’t have the same type of support after they graduate. We teach them how to advocate for themselves in a professional way, so when they encounter microaggressions in professional spaces, they are prepared. We encourage them: ‘Be professional. Be respectful, but set your boundaries,’” she said.
As the nation commemorated Black History Month, Bowman reflected on the contributions Black individuals have made to our lives.
“Black History Month is a great time not only for students, but for everyone to expand their knowledge of Black culture, how rich it is and how it’s literally contributed to every aspect of our modern day lives. Students come up to the third floor of the Student Union and most of them take the elevator. Alexander Miles, a Black man, invented elevator doors that could automatically open and close,” she said.
“We know the three-position traffic light was invented by Garrett Morgan, a Black man. You walk around campus and see everyone with their cell phone in hand, thanks to a Black man named Henry T. Sampson, a pioneer in the technology now used in cell phones, and Jesse Russell, a pioneer in the field of cellular and wireless communications,” Bowman said.
“So many aspects of our lives come from the vision of a Black person, the ingenuity of a Black person. We have such a rich history. This is a great time to recenter and realize that (Black history is) not just this month. I’m not just Black in February. I’m Black in March, in April and May — we’re Black 365.”