News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 22, 2013

College community members share dreams, struggles

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was advanced Monday night at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as students, professors and staff shared important stories about themselves.

The Rose diversity council hosted a dinner on campus in honor of King at which four members of the college community shared their dreams and personal struggles.

Often, people are separated by their cultures, said Luanne Tilstra, director of the Rose Center for Diversity, a professor of chemistry and an organizer of the event.

“By hearing these stories, the idea is we will know each other a little bit better, and those spaces that are between us start to get filled in,” she said.

The event’s first speaker, Angelica Cox, a sophomore math and economics double major, used the Max Ehrmann poem, “Desiderata,” to highlight moments in her own personal journey, which eventually brought her to Rose where she is one of relatively few black students at the top-rated engineering school.

Cox said the poem, written by Erhmann in Terre Haute in 1927, is inspirational to her and lifts her spirits during difficult times. Cox, who is from Indianapolis, also said she would like people to be careful with their words and remember that “racial slurs cut deep, even when those hurt don’t show their scars.”

Carlotta Berry, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rose, shared how there were no women, let alone black women, teaching engineering at Georgia Tech when she was a student there. Nevertheless, Berry stepped forward and pursued a Ph.D., “making a choice to be something I did not see.”

Berry now encourages other minority and women students to pursue math, engineering and science through the ROSE-BUD program she started. “BUD” means “Building Undergraduate Diversity.”

Nadine Shillingford Wondem’s story includes growing up in the Caribbean where, as a person with dark skin, she was in the majority. That differs from her young daughter, now a student in a Vigo County elementary school, who is one of very few black students, she said.

“Events like this one are important to ensure people are exposed to other people’s stories” and differences, she said.

And Dexter Jordan, associate director of admissions and multicultural recruitment at Rose, told of important moments in his life when he was confronted with challenges concerning race and also when he was reminded he must help those around him.

King once said “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be,” and Jordan said that quote should ring true to engineers and scientists who rely on each other’s work for progress.

“That [quote] allows us to realize how interconnected we all are,” Jordan said. “I’m hoping that message will strike a cord.”

About 75 people attended the MLK Day dinner, now in its first year at Rose.

“I have a feeling, based on how many people were on the waiting list, it may not be the last year,” Tilstra said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@