Digital Transformation and the Future of HBCUs

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HBCUs are leveraging digital transformation (Dx) to improve student outcomes.

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Boz Bell: Digital transformation is changing every industry, including higher education. There is a great opportunity for institutions to use digital transformation to prepare for the future. As a result of establishing robust digital transformation plans and strategies, HBCUs have the power to accelerate student, researcher, faculty, and staff success and enable the institution's sustained success and growth for the future. Let's hear what these HBCU IT leaders have to say about transformation challenges such as cybersecurity, change management, and preparing students for their future work.


Bell: We all know that cybersecurity is a growing concern across all industries. What does the cyber threat landscape look like for higher education today?

Damian Clarke: The pandemic has highlighted not just the cybersecurity concerns but also the cyberinfrastructure concerns for higher education.

Bell: So, what's the number-one item HBCUs should be thinking about to secure their institutions for the future?

Almesha Campbell: HBCUs should make sure that their faculty, staff, and students are fully trained on cybersecurity and ensure that everyone on campus understands that they must be vigilant about bad practices when it comes to cybersecurity.

Sterlin Sanders: A study by BlackFog indicated that around the world, more than 51 percent of ransomware attacks happen in the United States. Due to outdated security technology, institutions often fall victim to these ransomware attacks. This is why technology and money aren't the solutions. The solution is cybersecurity awareness.

Bell: What is the low-hanging fruit investment every HBCU should make in cybersecurity?

Sonya Satterfield: You want to make sure that all access into your infrastructure is done securely. You need to monitor the threats and the attacks that are hitting your firewalls. With that, strengthening infrastructure should probably be one of the top priorities for every HBCU.

Change Management

Bell: How will your HBCU adapt to educate students of the future?

Clarke: Technology needs to be used in more dynamic and innovative ways to improve the student experience and make student success more easily achieved.

Bell: How can someone ignite change?

Campbell: I consider myself a change agent, but I also want to empower students to be change agents on our campus as well. The students get so excited when they see me, as someone in my position, so involved in training them to engage in innovation and technology that they want to do it too.

Sanders: Typically, when it comes to the ability to ignite change, you have to be willing to embrace change yourself. You must be willing to overcome your fears. You also have to be willing to incite challenges amongst faculty, staff, and students.

Future-Ready Students

Bell: What do you think are some essential skills for upcoming students?

Campbell: Students need to build an understanding of the key elements in mathematics and some basic computer science skills. Oftentimes, we find students want to get into these fields but are not confident they can be successful because they struggle with grasping the basic math and computer skills together.

Clarke: Problem-solving skills are important. People need to learn how to work independently. In addition, critical thinking—thinking about things clearly and rationally—and creativity are essential. Some people might say, "You need to learn how to think outside of the box." I would say, "You need to understand there is no box." Students should know how to think analytically, compare and contrast, evaluate and synthesize, and collaborate and connect with other people.

Abraham George: We are not only short-staffed, but we also have a challenge finding people with analytics and data science knowledge and experience. We need to fill that gap.

Bell: In your opinion, what is the best way to teach students to be agile?

Satterfield: We have to start our students early and not get stuck in one way of doing things. Students need to be able to switch quickly, transfer quickly, or easily adapt to a new subject, process, or thought pattern and not get complacent.

Bell: This has been great. Thank you all.

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