ALMA — DeQuan Powell and Morgan Leake found opportunities to live, create and lead at Alma College, thanks to the Julius Chatman Living Learning Community (JCLLC). Now, they are going off into the professional world to expand on those skills.

Powell and Leake, both members of the Class of 2024 at Alma College, are the first graduates of the JCLLC, which was founded in 2021. Powell and Leake both credited the JCLLC with providing them a supportive community of students who helped ensure the successful completion of their college experiences.

“What we hear a lot from students is that they want a safe space, where they can be themselves and connect with other students who share similar experiences and backgrounds as they have. I think that when you look at DeQuan and Morgan, you see the results of what can happen when you give them that space,” said Damon Brown, vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer at Alma College.

“Having gotten to know DeQuan and Morgan through the years, I’m so proud of what they were able to accomplish here. They made a significant impact at our college, but it’s nothing compared to the impact they will make on the world in years to come.”

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Leake, of Southfield, Mich., graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Among her accomplishments at Alma was the creation and implementation of the LINKS program, which allows first-year students of color the opportunity to familiarize themselves with campus well before the start of the academic year through an on-campus welcome program and early move-in access.

Leake said she is especially proud of seeing her fellow students increase their GPAs, and that 100 percent of them stayed in college, one year following the implementation of LINKS.

“The JCLLC was an avenue towards building my leadership skills and trusting my creativity,” Leake said. “Being in the program and its leadership roles, I was more social and interacted with my peers. Operating as a project manager and event coordinator took me out of my comfort zone. I faced and overcame many challenges, which enhanced my tenacity. It was rarely easy and very uncomfortable, but I can’t have it any other way. It’s a part of my unique college experience and has had a lasting impact.”

Leake is currently working as a nursing intern at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland and studying for the National Council Licensure Examination. After completing the exam, she said, she intends to take a job at Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital in Royal Oak.

Powell, of Detroit, Mich., graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in business administration. He transferred to Alma after earning an associate’s degree from Macomb Community College, Clinton Township Mich., and additional credits at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

Powell was a “mentor” in the JCLLC, working with administrators to help younger students feel acclimated to Alma College. He counts among his favorite memories at Alma a trip to see the musical “Hamilton” at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre with his “mentees.” Among Powell’s proudest accomplishments at Alma are seeing half of the students in the JCLLC earn Dean’s List honors in his final term.

“Something really special about the JCLLC was that feeling of community. I live right next to people that I know and can talk to any time. Those are the same people that I eat lunch with or sit in class with. We’re all going through the same things, so if one of us is struggling, we’re able to help because we see it, too,” Powell said. “To be the first graduate of this program, along with Morgan, is a huge honor. It feels like we’re starting a legacy.”

Now that he has graduated, Powell said, he seeks to make inroads in the world of sports business management. He is an intern at the Detroit Golf Club and intends to pursue graduate school, with a goal of working as a business executive for a professional sports team.

Living Learning Communities (LLCs) are a relatively new concept at colleges and universities. They allow for students with common academic, cultural, or social interests to live together in on-campus housing and receive various supports guided by their goals. There are several examples of LLCs at colleges and universities around the United States, based on ideas such as environmentally sustainable living, interfaith spirituality, entrepreneurship and second languages. Alma also offers LLCs for transfer students and those involved in local service.

The JCLLC is named after Julius Chatman, who attended Alma from 1924-27 and is considered the first Black student in the history of the college. He was a star athlete for the Scots’ football and track programs, but faced hardships in the classroom that ultimately caused him to leave college without receiving a degree. Chatman was honored posthumously by Alma College, before a crowd of family and friends, in 2022, and inducted in the Scots Athletics Hall of Fame.