Bowie State University is the oldest Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the state of Maryland. Established in 1865, Bowie State has played a pivotal role in providing students with access to higher education and fostering a nurturing environment that celebrates the unique cultural heritage of the institution. Today, Bowie State continues to be a beacon of academic excellence and inclusivity, while focusing on empowering future generations of students to excel in their chosen fields and contribute meaningfully to society.
Linnet Griffiths is a proud graduate of Bowie State University. Linnet chose Bowie State for several reasons; it was affordable, it was an HBCU and, most importantly, it was close to home. Being close to home was a major factor because, at the time, her mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Attending college and being the first in her family to graduate was not only Linnet’s dream but a promise she made to her mother.
Linnet recounts the feelings she experienced the first time she walked onto campus. She felt excitement, fear, and independence all at once. While sitting through freshman orientation and hearing that common phrase “look to your left and then look to your right, followed by, now one of you will not be here next year” only cemented her resolve that failure was not an option.
The HBCU experience is like no other. The culture, comradery, Homecomings, Greek life accompanied with step shows and block parties, the band playing during halftime games, and the mixture of beautiful black minds from all over the country converging in one place is an experience that no other institution can duplicate. Everyone was united in the same goal–to obtain a college education. Being at an HBCU seemed like a different universe compared to her life in Washington, D.C. and Prince George’s County, Maryland. Bowie State had a community of like-minded African Americans intent on gaining an education and improving the future for themselves and their family.
Linnet recalls meeting with her advisor for the first time and the major impact that it had on her college and professional career. Her advisor was a Harvard graduate who had chosen to use his education to teach at an HBCU to shape young black minds and to prepare them for the future and a world that would present obstacles. He made sure his students would learn from the same books as students at the top universities across the country did. Linnet recalls him saying, “Master the book and I will teach you how to apply it.” He made it his mission to ensure his students were learning during class and individually.
During her time at her HBCU, Linnet found lifelong friends and “sisters” through her sorority. More than 30 years later, there is not a week that goes by that she doesn’t speak to one of them or a year that they don’t take a vacation together to reconnect and relive that HBCU experience.
“They are my lifeline. To have a group of strong, intelligent, fearless women you can lean on for over 30 years is a blessing and the greatest gift I’ve gained from my HBCU experience,” says Linnet.
During Linnet’s senior year, with only months before graduation, her mother succumbed to breast cancer. That following year, Linnet was invited by her advisor to speak to his class of incoming freshmen to share her experience. During her closing, she instructed each student look to their left and then to their right, echoing the sage advice she received when she was in their shoes, “Make sure you help each other be here next year.”
Once Linnet decided to pursue her postgraduate education, without hesitation, she went back to Bowie State and to the professor who she knew would help guide her to success, who was there for her during her darkest times, and who provided her the confidence and guidance she needed to excel. To Linnet, being on campus felt like returning home. Her HBCU experience prompted her to include the mentoring of upcoming public health professionals as a cornerstone of her leadership style. She believes that the impact of mentoring extends beyond helping mentees acquire knowledge. Linnet says her goal is to help shape the individual, empower them to overcome obstacles and reach their full potential, and instill in them a deep desire to give back and mentor others along the way.
When it came time for her daughter to attend college, Linnet wanted her to have the opportunity to experience the same HBCU culture that was so instrumental to her professional development. Initially, her daughter’s preference was to attend prestigious predominately white institution (PWI). Linnet encouraged her daughter to apply to at least one HBCU. She was accepted to all the schools she applied to including several Ivy League schools. Her daughter ultimately decided to attend Howard University, another prestigious HBCU. Her daughter also attended Georgetown University for her master’s degree but still agrees that attending an HBCU for her undergraduate degree was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Linnet’s HBCU experience at Bowie State University laid the groundwork for her passion for public health and her determination to make a difference in the lives of her community. Linnet’s journey stands as a testament to the unique importance of an HBCU education. HBCU culture instilled in Linnet a commitment to service. Linnet shares, “It was my HBCU experience that helped shape my career and passion for mentoring and the need to pour into CDC’s next generation of public health leaders.”