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SPAA Alumnus Michael Dillard (MPA'10) Speaks at His Alma Mater, Barringer High School

Michael Dillard (MPA'10) (photo by Karrin Pitt)

“It wasn’t until I set foot into a funeral home that I believed I could actually be somebody successful,” explains Michael Dillard, a native Newarker and alumnus and adjunct professor of the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University–Newark (RU–N).

A positive role model to many, Dillard recently accepted an invitation to be the 2016 commencement speaker of Barringer High School, his alma mater.

“I was excited to address a large audience of young adults and motivate and challenge them to reach their full potential, give back to the city of Newark, and represent Barringer well.”

Growing up in Newark, Dillard is no stranger to the everyday struggles inner city youths face. To avoid the negative influences teenagers often face, Dillard spent countless hours working in a funeral home where he learned early on he had a niche for serving his community as a responsible citizen. His co-workers, whom Dillard considered mentors, inspired him to seek opportunities that would not only challenge him, but provide growth.

Realizing the invaluable role his mentors played in molding him into the successful man he is today, Dillard found his passion in motivating young African-American students, particularly males, to go to college and to give back to their communities.

Shortly after beginning his assignment as an adjunct professor at SPAA, Dillard took a direct interest in the Office of University-Community Partnerships’ RU Ready for Work program. In addition to being a work-readiness program, the program prepares Newark high school students for college and emphasizes the benefits of a postsecondary education, especially for students of color. 

As senior advisor of RU Ready for Work, Dillard has played a major role in the program’s 100 percent college placement success rate. Dillard is asked frequently why the program so well-received by high school students. He explained, “It’s not solely educating the student but also educating the parents on the importance of attending and graduating from college. They also need to understand the resources available to them.”

Many students, especially those who live in urban areas and have limited financial resources, believe they cannot afford to go to college. “There are many scholarships available to students from low-income households of which many are unaware,” Dillard expressed emphatically. Dillard utilizes his network to bring in key specialists to better inform both students and parents of ways to finance higher education.

Inside the classroom Dillard serves as a role model to his students by practicing teaching methods that go beyond the text book. Dillard is an advocate of providing real-life experience for his students and has been recognized for his partnership and coordination with City of Newark officials, co-teaching SPAA’s “Leadership for the Service Professional” course, which he held onsite at City Hall.

Although there are many accomplishments to celebrate, Dillard recognizes there is much more work to be done at RU-N and SPAA, and in the city of Newark. He welcomes the challenge.

Media Coverage
Barringer Academy of STEAM graduation 2016