11/20/2014 01:58 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

Virginia Union University On the Forefront of Progressive Education in the 21st Century

In an age where the news coming out of the world is more than often depressing, this is particularly true for historically black colleges and universities; there are occasional glimmers of sunshine on the horizon.

The common perception of HBCU's (among its critics), are that they are colleges and universities that are ill-managed, made up mediocre faculty, inefficient bureaucrats, sub-par academic students and provide their constituents with less than adequate resources.

While this narrative has been commonplace, it is largely been a myth that has been manufactured by those who have largely held such institutions and Black people in general with a high level of contempt. These are people whose opinions should be discounted.

As any astute minded person should know, there are HBCU's where academic innovation is a process that is ongoing. One such example of entrepreneurship is taking place at Virginia Union University. This coming spring the university will launch the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction program. This is a program designed for teachers, leaders and those who aspire to advance their careers. Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, associate professor and Chair of the Department of Education at Virginia Union University, participants in the program are those who have had a successful undergraduate experience and obtained some level of post college work experience.

The degree program will have three tracks:

*Elementary Education
*Special Education
*Urban Education

The program is designed to be completed within 18-24 months. Students who are selected will be required to complete an action research project related to their specific area of interest. According to Davis, the primary focus of the program is to provide its students opportunities to learn current educational theory, evidence based best practices and conduct research in unique areas of challenge to today's school environments. Their action research projects will provide a mechanism to develop new strategies to solve problems related to the varied and complex needs of students, school personnel and the communities they serve. The program has earned the support of several administrators at the institution including Dr. Matthew Lynch, Dean of the School of Education, Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Teacher education is not the only area of the school that is pushing the innovation envelope. Dr. Lisa T. Moon, associate professor of psychology, and founding Executive Director of the Center for the Study of The Urban Child will be hosting its third annual Symposium (spring 2015) dealing with cross-disciplinary issues such as education, poverty, social support systems, and agencies that serve our communities and their impact on urban children. Given the rapid economic segregation happening in many schools across the nation coupled with the increasing unrest and disenfranchisement among Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged youth in many urban areas of our nation, such a symposium is indeed timely.

In the coming future, VUU's School of Education, Psychology & Interdisciplinary Studies plans to expand its current on campus offerings to include satellite programs, and online and hybrid courses. This is progressive education at its best. Hopefully, more HBCU's will adopt similar programs that integrate and transform acquired knowledge beyond the classroom into its surrounding communities.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. Is a Professor of History, Africana Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of Beginning a Career in Academia: A Guide for Graduate Students of Color. Routledge Press. 2014.