HBCU Member Spotlight – Morgan Coles

How long have you worked for Maximus, and what is your position?

I have worked for Maximus for four months. I am a case manager supervisor for the Family Re-Housing Stabilization Plan Program in Washington, D.C.

Describe why you chose to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Was it your first choice?

Following my time in the U.S. Army, I was seeking community in a place that was not my home. My wife transferred from Tuskegee University to Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. Seeing how quickly she was welcomed and treated like family was important to me. After researching several majors and the transparency Paine College offered about the overall curriculum, I was sold. Pursuing a degree in history from a HBCU just made sense, personally. More importantly, I wanted to gain up close and personal experience in disseminating history and cultural clarity throughout my community and the generations that will be responsible for telling our stories in the future.

What traditions stand out or impacted your overall college experience?

One of the best HBCU traditions is homecoming. I still attend most years, and to say it is like a big family reunion is an understatement. Even at a small HBCU, you’re likely to see celebrity appearances or performances. The yard is constantly filled with students and alumni engaging and fellowshipping with one another.

Because I attended a Methodist college, each Wednesday the entire student body and most of the faculty and staff would meet for what we simply and adoringly called “Chapel.” Our Chapel would fill with students with the graduating seniors sitting together in the front rows. We would receive updates and get the opportunity to hear from notable locals and alumni. Most importantly, for incoming and outgoing students, it was a reminder that support was never more than a few people away.

Describe how attending a HBCU has impacted your professional career.

Attending a HBCU led me down a path of service. I was exposed to and benefited from being surrounded by an uplifting community. I learned how to be solution-oriented and many of my experiences strengthened my adaptability. Attending such a small institution did not come without trials and tribulations, but in the face of adversity, I was shown the true meaning of resilience. As a result, I have found myself guided by the principles I learned to help others. I have worked with underserved minority youth in my community. From there, I transitioned to working with youth and adults in crisis. Now I find myself providing services to one of the most vulnerable populations in the nation: those facing housing insecurity. As I continue to build on my historical background, my HBCU continues to inspire me to change our history one person at a time.

What about attending a HBCU might be surprising for those who haven’t had the same experience?

I found the curriculum to be a welcome challenge. The standard of learning included learning our crafts from a different lens. We were pushed to be better than the best because it was a necessity to get closer to equitable opportunities after college.

Additionally, I was surprised at how involved Paine was in ensuring their graduates were connected to job opportunities or connections involving continuing my education. My mentor introduced me to the field of study I completed my master’s degree in, and I can speak directly toward their efforts to help two chemistry students get into Howard University’s College of Pharmacy in the same year. Many of the students who stay local have found careers within Paine College itself.

Currently, what activities, initiatives, or groups do you participate in, as a way to give back or stay connected to your alma mater?

Currently, I am a part of the Paine College Alumni Association’s Washington, D.C. chapter. I am not as active as I would like to be since I am new to this area, but I plan to continue to attend monthly meetings to determine how I can be most effective. My wife and I donate yearly to the homecoming court to assist with formalwear for current students, as many of the students find the extra expense to be a financial burden but who yearn to be a part of the longstanding tradition. Each summer, I tutor a small group of high school students to recruit high school seniors from the area schools, thus keeping the student’s tuition lower by staying local.