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Class of 2017: Uskavitch Improved Student Experience for Black Men at UVA

Published May 9, 2017 in News

By: Anne E. Bromley | University Communications

Students playing in the snow – that’s what sold Nashville native Jacob Uskavitch on coming to the University of Virginia (and not his parents, who are both UVA alumni).

A March snowstorm four years ago coincided with his visit for Days on the Lawn, an open house for prospective Wahoos offered admission. He saw students enjoying themselves outside as they trudged to and from classes, which were not cancelled, he said.

Over the years, Uskavitch has excelled as an active, successful student, from serving as chair of the Black Presidents Council, a coalition of African-American student leaders, to mentoring young students at Clark Elementary School. He explored a variety of activities, especially those that emphasize a sense of belonging and paths to success for black male students on Grounds.

For Uskavitch, who lived on the Lawn this year and will walk down it when he graduates May 20, that student experience has also been heavy on the academic side: The Echols Scholar and Ridley Scholar double-majored in chemistry and African-American and African studies, complete with a distinguished majors thesis.

He even participated in UVA’s Snapchat takeover, which allows students to tell the University’s followers a story showing a day in their life on Grounds. Uskavitch looked like he had fun, whether introducing friends or promoting voter registration. He explained his two majors, his biracial background and the organizations he has joined. When a follower asked what makes UVA unique, he cited the student experience, including student self-governance.

Jacob Uskavitch, an aspiring doctor-to-be, lived on the Lawn and delved into the student experience at UVA. (Dan Addison, University Communications)

The Office of African-American Affairs has been one of his favorite places, he said, for hanging out, studying and participating in programs. He mentioned the Black Male Initiative in particular, a program begun about six years ago through the office’s Luther P. Jackson Cultural Center.

“The Black Male Initiative is a great organization on Grounds, and good for networking,” said Uskavitch, who was on its executive board. The group brings together black men – students, faculty, staff and even alumni – who otherwise are often separated in different departments and schools, for the purpose of increasing academic and social success.

One of the first examples that demonstrated the power of mentoring to Uskavitch came as soon as he arrived on Grounds, via the Office of African-American Affairs’ Peer Advisor Program. All black first-year and transfer students are assigned an upper-class peer adviser, who proffers friendly advice and support during the college transition. Last year, Uskavitch himself worked as a senior peer adviser, also involved in selecting and training the next cadre of student advisers.

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