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Alum Lonnie Fogle and the State of Black UT

Alum Lonnie Fogle and the State of Black UT

Chemistry major and retired Dupont engineer dedicates time to mentoring current black students through the Precursors, a group made of some of the first black students to attend UT in the 50s and 60s.

fogle-lonnie-low-resCollege of Natural Sciences alum Lonnie Fogle, B.S. '66, Chemistry.

This year’s fourth annual Black Homecoming weekend kicked off with a panel discussion at the Blanton Museum regarding “The State of Black UT.” The panel, made up of faculty, staff, alumni and students, discussed current issues that face black students on campus today.

The dialogue was expertly moderated by award-winning mentor and University of Texas at Austin alum Jonathan Sprinkles, and covered a lot of ground over two hours. Issues ranged from Fisher vs. Texas, to recruiting black students, the black admissions glass ceiling (hovering at five percent), minority retention rates, and the general campus climate for black students.

Among the panelists was Lonnie Fogle, one of the first black students to attend The University of Texas at Austin. Fogle graduated from the College of Natural Sciences with a bachelor’s of science in chemistry in 1966. Now a retired senior chemical engineer from Dupont, Fogle is currently the president of the Precursors, a group made up of about 100 individuals who were among the first black students that attended the university from the late 1950’s to mid 1960’s.

He said his mission and the mission of the Precursors is to “improve and enhance the experience students have at UT on campus and beyond UT.”

That mission continues to be achieved through fundraising for scholarships for black students, mentoring and recruiting efforts, and sharing the Precursor’s history, trials and accomplishments while at the university.

Fogle offered the panel the unique perspective of someone who was a trailblazer at a time when black students made up less than one percent of the student population, compared to today’s five percent.

sobut-panel"State of Black UT" panel participants.

A topic that came up frequently during the discussion was the challenge of being part of a community where the majority of people don’t look like you. For many students coming from black schools and communities, this is the first time they’ve experienced being the only person of color in their classes. Fogle spoke about what it felt like to represent the “black perspective” on campus.

“When I was here,” said Fogle, “we were happy that we made up a whole one percent of the university – 22,000 to almost 200 of us - but one of the key factors to being able to navigate through that system was having a support group.”

Fogle stressed the value of a degree from the university, pointing out that he was “never without a job one day out of 38 years of working. That degree will stand up to other major universities.”

This is a sentiment shared by other panelists who agreed that while their time at the university wasn’t always easy, their degree represents instant credibility in the job marketplace.

When asked if he is encouraged by the current state of the black student experience at the university, Fogle said, “What keeps my spirits up is that I know there are people in the administration who’ve done what they can and are putting forth an effort to make things better.”

The College of Natural Sciences, for example, has implemented a number of programs such as the Freshman Research Initiative and the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan that are improving retention rates in science and math for all students, including underrepresented minorities. Both programs have led to increased retention, improved graduation rates and higher GPAs for students from underrepresented minority groups.

Fogle is quick to point out, however, that the college’s faculty includes only one black tenure-track professor.  But, he is encouraged by the opportunities that exist for young black students today and what the future holds, especially in the sciences.

“You’ve GOT to take science and math,” he said. “You can be your own creator of devices and businesses.”

He recalled listening to the radio while driving in his car with his grandson and his grandson’s friend who happened to share Fogle’s love of NPR’s Science Friday. Fogle told his grandson, “You might be calling him a nerd now, but one day you could be asking him for a job!”

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Thursday, 09 February 2023

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