From classic literature to business logistics, reading is the staple of the higher education diet. Black Colleagues Association (BCA) President Daniel Pierson ’81, though, remembers having to put down his textbooks during the week to read meters for GTE, which helped him pay his way through Illinois State.

“My brother was also in college, which meant my parents had two children in college at the same time,” Pierson said. Memories such as this fuel Pierson’s three goals for his two-year term as BCA president. He understands what it’s like to get to college and then work to stay in school. He wants to make the pathway to the future a little easier for current Illinois State University students.

Pierson would like to award more recurring scholarships to more young people, so financial concerns will not be a reason for not finishing their degree. He is joined in those efforts by his new BCA vice president, Dennis Banks ’85. The BCA funds scholarships through annual gifts. A $50 gift allows an alum to be an active member of BCA, with the funds going directly to scholarships. “I’d like to see membership in BCA increase by at least 25 percent,” said Banks. Banks and Pierson encourage members to share their reasons for joining with fellow alumni and appreciate those that continue to contribute and remain active with the BCA. Those wanting to learn more about making a gift and becoming an active member can visit the BCA website.

Beyond providing the financial means to stay in school, Banks and Pierson agree the BCA can make a difference in students’ lives by expanding the efforts of the mentoring committee. “Mentoring is huge!” exclaims Pierson. He already mentors students through his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, so he understands the extra commitment he would be asking already-busy alumni to make. However, he believes the time spent is worth the results—seeing young professionals begin their careers and succeed.

For Banks, mentoring allows him to be obedient to a message he heard in church the year after he graduated. “’If you’ve been blessed, you should be a blessing to someone.’ Those words changed my life,” says Banks, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He recalls a text he received from a young man asking what to wear to a job interview. Mentoring can be as simple as that, stoking confidence, but can extend to providing exposure and helping the student shape their vision.

The dynamic duo’s third goal for taking their leadership to the next level is to encourage more alumni to become involved with the Black Colleagues Association. Banks reminds his fellow alumni that it’s not just about raising scholarship funds. It’s also about reconnecting with old friends and connecting with new ones. Homecoming activities, the summer cookout, and special events throughout the year bring former classmates and all generations of alumni together to make fresh memories. 

To Pierson, it’s also the chance to share stories and talk about the foundation Illinois State created for each Redbird. Thinking back to his undergraduate experience, College of Business Professor Emeritus Dr. Gerry McKean, saw that Pierson was working a part-time job to support his education, and helped get him a full-time job, leading to the start of his professional career. Helping the next generation get their start is the goal. Since 1987, the BCA has awarded more than $315,000 in scholarships to students and presented dozens of opportunities for alumni to connect. The new leadership team hopes to build on that success and wants fellow alumni and friends to join them in reaching these three goals.