Guiding the Way

Sharon Strange Lewis looks back at her work-study days in the office of student recruitment.

by Sharon Strange Lewis (BA ’84)
students in Howard University valley 1984
Sharon Strange Lewis
Sharon Strange Lewis (BA ’84, P ’17) is the director of alumni relations at Howard University. 

It was a cold and rainy March morning in the Spring of 1980 when my mother and I arrived on campus for our 9 a.m. tour of Howard University. In my mother’s nervousness about being late, we were two hours early. A security guard greeted us at the gate near Founders Library and graciously sheltered us in the Blackburn Center. He got us coffee and chatted with us until the campus officially opened, and then he escorted us to the financial aid office and wished me luck on my Howard journey. 

From financial aid, we made our way to the office of student recruitment for the official campus tour. Our tour guide, associate director Olivia Brown, had a great deal of enthusiasm as she shared key facts about Howard University. With each step we made across campus, she made sure my mother and I knew that following my older brother to Howard University would undoubtedly be one of the best decisions I would make in my life. After we returned home, my mother could not stop talking about how she loved the campus tour and Olivia Brown. I was also convinced that Howard was the right choice. 

Shortly after arriving on campus to start my freshman year, I was assigned a work-study placement in the very office that scheduled my tour, the office of student recruitment. That office represented more than just a job; it was a place of comfort. Director Chester Wilson created an environment for student workers that helped us navigate all things Howard. He gave wise counsel on the importance of a Howard education, and what was expected of us as we represented the Bison brand. The office staff also made sure we were well-fed: Wilson would often open his wallet and give me $2 to buy lunch from the food truck parked in front of the building (my go-to lunch was half-smoke, a bag of Utz potato chips, and a Pepsi). Occasionally, especially around exam time, the sweet aroma of a home-cooked meal would greet us as we entered the office. We knew that Portia Fuller, the office manager and executive assistant to the director, had made black beans and Hawaiian chicken for the student workers. Both Wilson and Fuller knew that college students should not give campus tours on an empty stomach.  

Sharon Strange Lewis senior portrait 1984
Sharon Strange Lewis' senior portrait

During my tenure at Howard, I spent countless hours with families walking across the Yard sharing important University details just like Olivia Brown did with my mom and me. The office of student recruitment empowered and entrusted me with the responsibility of representing my beloved Howard as a student ambassador. I even traveled for my job: During my junior year, I experienced my first Amtrak ride to Philadelphia and first plane ride to Atlanta to attend recruiting trips for the University. Each time I stood before students and their families, I channeled the essence of Chester Wilson to help me illustrate the true Howard experience.  

In the Spring of 2012, I had a full-circle moment when I arrived on campus with my daughter for her official tour. We were not as early as my mother and I were, but we were on time. I listened eagerly, like my mother did, but this time I was remembering what it was like to be standing in the tour guide’s spot, proudly representing Howard University.   

 

This story appears in the Spring/ Summer 2022 issue.

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