Throughout the 2021-2022 school year, Meredith Room 104 has served as a place of candid conversations about everything from feminist literature, tensions and intersections of masculinity, fanfiction and even at-home bread baking. These topics are all in a day’s work for students enrolled in John Dee Bright College, which will soon complete its inaugural year at Drake University.
Bright College was named in honor of John Dee Bright, Drake football alumnus who gained national recognition for his athletic talent and an on-field racial assault by an opposing player. After his time at Drake, Bright went on to serve as an educator and a coach.
His legacy is shown through Drake’s new two-year program, which is designed to “[create] a new pathway into Drake University that will be uniquely tailored to meet the educational needs of a diverse array of students,” according to the program’s website.
Bright students meet in Meredith room 104 three times a week to gather and cultivate a unique learning experience and environment.
“It is an experience like no other that I’ve ever had in life or in an educational setting,” said Bright College student DeShana Taylor.. “One of the reasons it’s so special to me is because of the relationships that I have forged with other students and the professors as well.”
Drake English professor Craig Owens served as the first dean of Bright College this academic year.
“This group of students represents perspectives, life experiences, points of view, even values at times that I think are underrepresented in American higher education generally,” Owens said. “They bring new voices, a new kind of energy to the University. They’re engaged, energetic, active, lively, students who have a lot to offer.”
The inaugural cohort is composed of 28 students who come from a diverse set of ethnic, generational and socioeconomic backgrounds. First-year Delaney Douglass said that Bright College feels like a family.
“Everyone is so supportive of each other, and each time we have a chance to meet a new instructor or professor ahead of when we have them, they are welcomed into our team,” Douglass said. “We have, on several occasions, laughed and cried and had meaningful conversations together.”
Part of the uniqueness of Bright College is the cohort-based structure: students are grouped together in a learning cohort from day one, enabling them to work, problem-solve and engage with the same people throughout their time at Bright. Taylor loves the cohort-structure for the relationships and the set schedule it brings.
“I feel very lucky, because the instructors that I have encountered are extremely vested and invest in me as an individual including all my peers as a collective, and that investment — that special, extra touch and love that we give — makes it that much easier to learn,” Taylor said.
The cohort-based structure isn’t the only way Bright College stands apart from its peers. Rather than jumping straight into course material, the Bright cohort begins many of their classes with group affirmations and follow theme days like Music Mondays, Tasty Tuesdays and Thoughtful Thursdays.
Students enrolled in Bright College can pursue one of two Associate of Arts degree pathways: Business, Organization and Professional Studies or Integrated Arts, Sciences and Humanities. This semester, Bright courses included Topics in Media Literacy, Information Literacy and Data and Statistical Literacy. These high-impact courses are collaborative and involve professors from around the University, although Owens believes students practically teach the courses themselves.
“We owe our students — all our students, in every corner of the University — at minimum these two things: the autonomy to chart their own paths and the navigational tools to do so,” Owens said. “Those tools include knowledge and learning, to be sure, but they also include courage, confidence and perseverance to take on and overcome challenges, whether those come from big, complex, difficult ideas and bodies of knowledge or from places and circumstances beyond the classroom.”
Despite the academic shifts the Meredith Hall renovations are set to bring, the second year for Bright College remains hopeful. Douglass is looking forward to meeting new professors, meeting underclassmen and seeing where the split pathways will take the cohort.
“It’s super weird to think about [graduation] right now. The year still feels like it just started,” Douglass said. “It’s almost sad to think our Bright experience is already halfway over, but overall, I’m excited to see my classmates get the degrees we have been working so hard to get so far.”
Owens said that taking ownership of learning, failing and succeeding on your own terms and learning from those successes and failures is the lesson of Johnny Bright’s entire career.
“I believed that to be true when we set out to launch Bright College,” Dean Owens said. “Now, one year in, I know it’s true having watched this group of learners not only succeed, but also build for themselves a community of individuals, each of whom is invested in every other member’s success.”
More information on Bright College admission and programs can be found at https://www.drake.edu/bright/.