When Robinell Allen and Cynthia Howell graduated with honors from Drexel University’s Saturday Scholars Behavioral Science program in June, they did themselves and Community College of Philadelphia proud. Allen, 48, graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 grade point average and Howell, 52, graduated magna cum laude with a 3.72 GPA.
As proud as they were of their personal achievements, Allen and Howell are the first to admit they did not do it alone. They credit the support and help of their posse, an ad hoc study group of five women formed while they attended Community College of Philadelphia. Three other members of the group—Kia Joynes, 26; Martha Ramsey, 53; and Maisha Nicole Emanuel, 25, also graduated from Drexel with a GPA of 3.8 or higher.
Allen was the catalyst who drew the women together. She started at the College after retiring on disability from the U.S. Postal Service. Boredom drove Allen to reinvent herself.
“I was sitting home one day depressed because I had some life problems going on. I decided to figure out what I wanted to do in my life,” she said. “I wanted to help people, so I started researching and found that Community College of Philadelphia had a good Behavioral Health program, and it was affordable.”
It was a big step for Allen, who had not been to school since dropping out of Temple University 23 years earlier. “My first class was English 102. When the teacher asked me what was the last thing that I had written, I answered, a ‘shopping list’,” Allen recalled.
However, returning to the classroom stimulated a long dormant love of learning. Allen became an avid student and began to look for others who were equally dedicated. It was a trick she learned from her father, Dr. George Allen, who was one of 10 African-American students in his freshman class at West Chester University in 1954. The 10 studied together as a group and provided academic and emotional support for one another during their four years at West Chester, and all did well, she said.
The strategy worked for his daughter, too. “We talked literally every day about projects and collaborated online for exams,” Allen said.
Although there was no formal agreement on where they would go, all five somehow ended up in Drexel’s Saturdays-only program, where they met at orientation. They rallied around one another to ensure academic success.
“The group helped us all get through Drexel and excel,” said Howell. She has even advised her daughter, who is now a student at Community College of Philadelphia, to form her own group of study buddies. “Being a part of a group of people who are on the same page as you is definitely a plus,” Howell said.
Ramsey said Allen was “like a mother keeping us in line. She was always asking if we had done the work, making sure that if anyone missed a class that we all shared notes.”
For Howell, going to the College was shock therapy. After a dozen years as a mental health worker at North Philadelphia Health System, she said she grew tired of being overlooked. “I didn’t always agree with the system, and I was tired of having my opinions being overlooked,” Howell said. “So, I decided to earn my degree and go back to the system where I could call the shots. That’s what brought me to Community College of Philadelphia. It was the best decision I ever made.”