Symposium tackles students’ basic needs insecurity

Published 7:11 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

By Wendy Harrison


More than 300 people registered from area schools, colleges and community partners to attend the fourth annual Student Success Symposium held at the Paul D. Camp Community College Regional Workforce Development Center on March 26.

This year’s theme was “#3C_PDC, Creating a Culture of Caring, Collaboration, and Completion — Addressing Students’ Basic Needs Insecurity in order to raise awareness about the recent data indicating that many college students are experiencing food insecurities and homelessness.

“The symposium provides a unique venue where students can learn more about resources and how to be their own advocates, but also for professional development of faculty, staff and administrators,” said Vice President for Academic and Student Development Dr. Tara Atkins-Brady. “Our STEPS team works to make sure topics are relevant and speakers provide insight on ways we can help address our students’ needs.”

Marissa Meyers was keynote speaker, addressing the group of student attendees and non-student attendees in a culminating presentation during lunchtime. — Submitted Wendy Harrison

Marissa Meyers, the practitioner-researcher for the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, gave the keynote address titled “Action: We Have More Work to Do.” Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Hope Center is a nonprofit research center that focuses on rethinking and restructuring higher education and social polices, practices and resources to create opportunities for all students to complete college degrees. Meyers shared with the attendees how they can identify solutions to address poverty, food and housing insecurities, hunger, homelessness, and other issues that has an impact on a student’s success.

She stated that the first step in tackling these issues is to evaluate assumptions.

“Students, I want you to check your assumptions that you have. Maybe, it’s the assumption that you have enough caseworkers or personnel, or that your professors or administrators are being nosy.” Meyers said, “Faculty, staff and administrators, maybe your assumptions are that the students are lazy, or that they already have enough food or proper housing. You probably might have labeled some students as “bad” students.”

As a youth who was involved in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems, Meyers could relate with the students when it came to the challenges that they face.

“When you look at me, you would have never thought that I would be relatable to you. You would have never thought that I was considered one of the “bad” students. Just like any kid, I wanted attention. I wanted someone to say “I love you.” At school, I was very sarcastic and was a very funny kid, and that got me into trouble. I say all of this to show you that I’m no different. It’s interesting that people want to put me up on this pedestal by saying, “But you went to college and got a degree,” but at the end of the day, I am one of you.”

For the faculty, staff and administrators, Meyers encouraged them to ensure that each student’s basic needs are being met.

“Every person deserves love, food, healthcare, housing. How can a student worry about school if they don’t have adequate food or housing? How can they learn how to become successful if they don’t have someone to help them academically or someone to help them fill out their FAFSA or to fill out a tax return?”

As an example of how providing basic needs can help students become successful, Meyers shared how her needs were met.

“I failed algebra twice. I wanted to study psychology, because I didn’t want students to experience the things that I had to go through. However, in order to take psychology, I had to take statistics, and in order to take stats, I had to pass algebra. I was failing exams, and I told my professor that I was having issues with algebra. At every exam, I stayed after school with my professor, and she would help me with the questions that I was have trouble with. As a result, I passed algebra with a B.”

Meyers has bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rosemont College and a master’s in nonprofit leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.

She encouraged the faculty, staff and administrators to be a catalyst for a student’s success and to think outside of the box.

“The most influential people are the ones who went above and beyond their call on the job, and my math professor was one of those people. She didn’t have to stay back after school in order to help me with passing my exams, but she did it anyway.”

Meyers closed out her speech by quoting the late Fred Rogers.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those my heroes.”

The free event also featured Dr. Bethanie Tucker, an educator since 1972. She has served in a number of critical teaching and program leadership roles at the elementary school level, and is a professor of education at Averett University in Danville. She presented “Possible Selves: Envisioning, Accomplishing and Giving Back” to the students, and “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” to the faculty, staff and other guests.

In addition, sharing other insights, welcoming and closing remarks were Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Experience and Strategic Initiatives Dr. Van C. Wilson; PDCCC President Dr. Daniel Lufkin; PDCCC Vice President for Academic and Student Development Dr. Tara Atkins-Brady; PDCCC Alum and City of Suffolk School Board member Karen Jenkins; retired NFL defensive Lineman and Cover 3 Foundation founder Greg Scott; PDCCC Assistant Professor of Biology Carolyn Ashby; and Adjunct English Instructor Delores Manley.

“The guest speakers led engaging sessions that led to collaborative plans to further engage in the topic of meeting the basic insecurity needs of our students,” said Dean of Student Services Trina Jones. “The theme was relevant to the work we do, and I am sure that there is more to come.”

STEPS Success Coach Dr. Sandra Walker hopes to continue bringing more awareness to student insecurity out in the community and looks forward to the next STEPS event in October, the third annual Student Leadership Conference.

To learn more, contact Students Transitioning through Education Programs Successfully (STEPS) at PDCCC by visiting

WENDY HARRISON is the public relations specialist for PDCCC. Contact her at

KENYA SMITH, a staff writer at The Tidewater News, contributed to this article. Contact her at 562-3187 or