White House names 14 Alabamians to HBCU Scholar program

State has more participants than any other

By: - July 25, 2023 3:27 pm
The White House at sunset, flanked by a grove of trees.

The White House South Lawn. (Getty)

Makahla Riley went through a whole range of emotions in five seconds when she received an email naming her a White House HBCU Scholar.

Smiling young woman in dark hoodie and white v-neck
Makahla Riley was named a White House HBCU scholar. (Contributed by Drake State Community & Technical College)

“I was very excited,” she said. “I was very shocked.”

The U.S. Department of Education announced last Thursday its ninth cohort of HBCU Scholars in its White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Of the 102 students named, 14 are from Alabama, the most of any state. Some of those 14 attend schools out of state, and some other students from other states attend Alabama colleges and universities.

The program is designed to enhance professional development and provide access to opportunities for after graduation, according to a release from the department.

The scholars are invited to a conference in September. After that, they are invited to participate in programs, master classes and events. 

Riley, going into her second year at Drake State Community & Technical College in Huntsville, and Eddie Tolbert, a senior majoring in computer information systems, were both named HBCU scholars this year. Drake State President Patricia Sims said in a statement that the school was “incredibly proud” of the students. 

“This prestigious recognition highlights their academic and personal achievements and contributions to their community. As they embark on this transformative journey as ambassadors of the White House Initiative on HBCUs and partners with NASA, we do not doubt that Makahla and Eddie will continue to uphold the culture of excellence and inclusion championed by our nation’s HBCUs,” the statement said.  

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Eddie Tolbert was named a White House HBCU scholar. (Drake State Community
& Technical College)

Riley hopes that the program will allow her to learn more about the policies that are intended to advance HBCUs, and the barriers that prevent them.

“And then just how we can fix it,” she said. “Make it better.”

While she’s still deciding what she wants to do as her career, she currently thinks she wants to be a social worker and open her own practice.

Tolbert wants to go into cybersecurity. 

“I thought it was a great opportunity,” he said of the program.

He said that networking is the part of the program he’s most passionate about.

“You never know who you’re going to need and who owns or does what,” he said.

HBCU scholars will network with each other through a conference in September in Crystal City, Virginia. After the conference, the scholars are invited to further events, including monthly master classes. 

The program also collaborates with NASA. The partnership makes the Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Innovation Tech Transfer Idea Competition (MITTIC), “Mini MITTIC” part of the HBCU Scholar Program, or Mini MITTIC program. Scholars will develop commercialized technology ideas from NASA IP, and they have the opportunity to present their ideas in-person at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center during the September National HBCU Week Conference.


In a statement from Alabama State University in Montgomery, Malinda W. Swope, ASU’s vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, expressed pride for the two ASU students who were named scholars. 

“This achievement is a testament to their hard work, dedication, and exceptional abilities,” she said. “I am a firm believer in the potential of our students and seeing them receive such prestigious recognition confirms that they are on the path to greatness.”

Haley Heard, from Montgomery, who is currently at ASU in the Master of Accountancy, Data Analytics program, and graduated from ASU in May, said in a statement that she gives ASU credit for the opportunity and hopes to meet President Joe Biden in September.

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Haley Heard was named a White House HBCU Scholar in 2023. (Alabama State University).

“I just feel amazing and humbled, as well as dream-like. I never felt that I would win such

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Laquann Wilson, student at ASU, is a White House HBCU scholar// contributed by ASU

an important honor, and I must thank the ASU office of Career Services for all they did to make this happen for me,” she said in the statement.

Laquaan Wilson, from Augusta, Georgia, is a senior in the political science program, according to ASU. 

“I feel that this award will greatly help me in my chosen field of government, and eventually in becoming an attorney,” he said in the Tuesday news release.

Dothan native HBCU scholar Jamal Maloney, Jr., a junior at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, said he had friends who had participated in the program, and he applied this round because he wanted to have more networking opportunities.

“I really wanted to network and experience what my friends experienced going to Washington DC, to network with others, students who have the same mindset from other HBCUs as well, and really get a grasp on how I want my career to progress,” he said.

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Jamal Maloney Jr was named a White House scholar. (Contributed by Jamal Maloney Jr.)

He said that he’s hoping to collaborate with other scholars this year. 

He plans to be an interventional cardiologist, a physician who uses catheters to treat and diagnose heart and blood conditions. He said he’s not expecting specifically healthcare professional development, but he’s hoping to make connections.

“It’s funny how things work,” he said. “God works in mysterious ways, so, who knows, maybe someone I meet here, or a certain company that I might meet here may change the trajectory of my career going forward, I may even switch from healthcare completely.”

He said that his experience at a primarily white high school influenced his decision to attend an HBCU for college.

“Now at an HBCU, I really see myself within everybody,” he said. “And I feel like I fit in a lot more: we go through the same experiences, we’ve experienced the same culture. It’s good to see those around us look like you, and you know that they’re capable of doing the same thing as you.”


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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.