We met with Dr. Walter Kimbrough, President of Dillard University, to discuss HBCUs, the importance of a hands-on approach to education, and the university’s response to the pandemic in developing a highly respected online degree program. Enjoy!
Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, discusses the unique cultural and academic experience that the school offers with students Karina Macosko and Tim Smith. Dillard University is top-ranked among the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), located in New Orleans at the heart of Louisiana’s diverse cultural blend. It offers not only a top education, but also an environment that cultivates intellectual curiousity, and an appreciation for cultural diversity. The geographic location of the school also gives students the opportunity to experience unique cultural experiences like Mardi Gras.
President Kimbrough’s hands-on approach to education gives students a strong community and support system throughout their college experience. Dr. Kimbrough discusses the transition to online education during the pandemic and the recent changes the university has undergone as a result of developing online alternatives. Dillard University now offers a highly respected online degree that provides an accessible alternative for students. The school is particulary known for their nursing and physics degrees.
Learn more about the most influential HBCUs in America.
If you are specifically interested in an online college degree, check out the Best Online HBCU programs.
For a fascinating look at the history of HBCUs in America, check out our look at back at the critical role HBCUs play in higher education.
(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Karina: Hi, my name is Karina Macosko.
Tim: I’m Tim Smith.
Karina: And we are from Academic Influence, and today we are here with Walter Kimbrough, who is the president of Dillard University. And so, just getting started, we wanna hear about your program because you are one of the biggest and most influential online HBCU degrees, and so we just wanna hear how your program got started, and what was kind of the initial motivation for your program.
Walter Kimbrough: Well, Dillard University is a traditional liberal arts HBCU founded in 1869, really have served this community in New Orleans even through Katrina, which basically we had to start a lot of things very… Just starting over, but a lot of history, the oldest nursing program in the state, we’re known for our physics program, we’re number three producer of African Americans with physics degrees, and then we really started to push with our pre-law program, where over 90% of our students who apply to law school get into law school, so those are really some of our signature programs if you will. We also do things with film, New Orleans’ Hollywood South, and so film is another big program for us.
Karina: Wow, that’s incredible. And going on with the online thing, was there something that really gave the spark to start this online degree, we’ve seen a really big push for more and more online programs, but what was it for your university that kind of brought about this program?
Walter Kimbrough: Well, so we’re doing some online is really the result of the pandemic. For a place like Dillard, we won’t be completely an online institution because our students really wanna come and have that personal relationship, I mean that’s a part of sort of like the HBCU ethos that you really know people. This morning, one of our seniors who is president of the choir sent me a note last night saying, Hey, I need to come see you, so… To have that kind of relationship, that’s what we, I think, do best. So we’ll always use that to supplement what we do, but it really won’t be exactly everything that we do because it’s just like New Orleans, it’s like you guys can say, We wanna participate in Mardi Gras online, but it’s not like being at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I can’t throw you beads virtually and you catch them, and have to duck and not get hit in the head by beads, that’s all a part of it, so you can’t replicate that online, so those are the kinds of things that we really lean into.
Tim: Great, great. How are you able to bring an HBCU essence and culture to an online program?
Walter Kimbrough: Yeah, that’s why we’re having those kinds of conversations now. I’m not completely sure that people can do that because I think it is… It’s a lot of the personal interactions, the one-on-one, so I think HBCUs who are doing online programs, I think they’re trying to figure that part out, it’s just… How does everything translate? Like I say, the example I use is Mardi Gras because Mardi Gras does not translate online, it’s just one of those things. So I think people are trying to figure out how to do that.
Karina: Well, yeah, that’s amazing. And for our viewers, our audience is mostly students like us who are looking into college, so if you were to talk to those students, what is it that you would really want them to know about your university that makes it different from maybe some of the other schools they are looking at or just some of the other schools around the country.
Walter Kimbrough: Yeah, no, I think that’s a good question, ’cause everybody’s trying to figure out how do you differentiate… For us, it really does, it starts in the place that we are embracing being in New Orleans, and New Orleans is one of the most interesting cities in the entire world. People come here from all around the world, all of the time. So you start with that as your platform being in New Orleans, and then you start to figure out what are the things that are happening here in New Orleans. So as I mentioned, the film industry, there are some years where there are more major motion pictures filmed in New Orleans than in California or Georgia. I’m from Atlanta, so we really have that, that’s very important. So those kind of programs, there is a big medical industry here in New Orleans, just because the health of people in Louisiana is not really good, so a place like New Orleans is great for nursing, not only just to get those skills, but there is a great need for nurses really all across the country, but it’s really huge here in Louisiana as well, so those are the things. We’re leaning into the things that are needed for this community and the state, and then eventually nationwide.
And those are the kinds of things I think we provide, but I think it all starts with people who are from this area, there’s just something about people from New Orleans and Louisiana that the connections and the relatedness that people feel, I think really drives them to do a lot of great things.
Tim: Great, how have you found that students are able to form communities even on an online platform of learning?
Walter Kimbrough: So particularly what we learned during the pandemic is that students found different groups to connect with and they’ve found a really creative way to be connected as well. Our campus, king and queen, they did… I think people are getting caught up in the versus battles with the different stars, and they’re competing on Instagram singing their song, so they did a sort of that kind of thing where they pick different songs, so they found different ways to use IG Live or those kinds of things to keep people connected. So those are the kinds of things I think that we’ve really been trying to do.
Karina: Well, yeah, that’s amazing. And yeah, everybody really saw a different shift with this pandemic having to move online, so it’s really good that you were still able to keep that kind of the culture that I think your school has really done a good job facilitating even throughout the pandemic, and so coming out of the pandemic, as students are trying to apply to college this year, and in the coming years, I’m sure that a lot of universities have taken a new twist to things, so coming out of the pandemic, where do you see Dillard’s going? Academic, social, everything, where do you see it going in this kind of transition period out of the pandemic?
Walter Kimbrough: Yeah, I think we’re leaning into the programs that I mentioned, but one of the things that I’ve seen, I think people learned about in the pandemic is that there are people who really want the traditional college experience, and so we just noted like this month a lot of the high schoolers are out on spring break, our campus tours have been crazy this year, we just had a meeting yesterday. There are people on campus every day, and I tell people for parents, I have a 10th grader and a seventh grader, and both of my kids know, not only are you going to college, you’re going as far away as possible. It’s not possible for them to say I’m staying at home and I’m gonna… It’s like, No. So I know my oldest, she’s like, I think I wanna go to Stanford, good, California. And then my son, I wanna go to Howard. I’m like, good, that’s DC, they have to leave. So there are lots of parents like me who are just like… College is still the best half-way house in America, let’s get them out the house.
Karina: Yeah, well, that’s amazing. And so, just finishing up on this interview, reaching out really personally to those students, is there anything that you would like them to know specifically about Dillard’s or just HBCUs in general? I feel like there’s just so many things that if a university professor could talk directly to students, what is it that you would like them to know?
Walter Kimbrough: Right, so the thing I tell people is, because it’s a very personalized experience to reach out and talk to people and really understand that you have people here who are really going above and beyond to ensure that you’re successful. They’re going to push you, and I think that’s really a part of the HBCU experience as well, but we’re forming those relationships, like I always tell people, you can find a person like me as a president that I’m meeting with the choir president, I’m writing letters of recommendation for a student who’s in my class, ’cause I teach a class, meeting with a group of international students, who are part of something called The Melton Foundation, we’re the only school in the US that’s a part of the Melton Foundation. So I’m meeting with students today from Ghana and Chile, there is another country with us today… And with India. So those kinds of things that we really are engaged with people on it, and so when students want those kind of relationships that people actually really know them, that are able to help them and push them through their career, that’s why a place like Dillard and HBCUs as a whole, I think are good options.
Karina: Wow, well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I know we’re both seniors, so kind of coming through this college process and looking at so many schools, it’s so hard to differentiate between all those schools. I think hearing this and hearing what Dillard has to offer really helps people kinda narrow down their selection or see what it is that they’re looking for in a university ’cause…
Walter Kimbrough: Absolutely.
Karina: Yeah, even some of the stuff you said about that community feel, and I mean the university professor being willing to write your college recommendation, you don’t get that at every university. So I feel like that personal feel when you say is just something that is really important as seniors are kind of making this jump to college. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, it was really… It was really interesting and… Yeah, thank you.
Walter Kimbrough: Okay, you’re welcome. Thank you.
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