While Avis Hinkson was growing up in a Barbadian immigrant household in Brooklyn, she imagined a career in health care. Instead, her life’s work has been guiding college students, first as an admission officer, later as a director of advising and now as Pomona College’s dean of students. “I didn’t go to college thinking I would stay in college,” she says with a laugh. She tells students that “as a college student, you want to chart a career path, and I encourage you to do that. But I also encourage you to be open to the right and left turns that sometimes take place, because they can lead you to wonderful career spots that you couldn’t have possibly imagined.”
Absorb the lesson while growing up in a culturally rich neighborhood that education is the path to a better life. Watch your mother, a seamstress, graduate from college in her 50s after going to work as a teacher assistant.
Go along with a high school friend to meet a recruiter from Barnard College. Be impressed that the recruiter is African American, and with the help of financial aid (Barnard costs more than your father makes in a year’s work as a mason), become one of about 25 Black students in a class of 500.
Bump into Barnard student Vernā Myers on your way to the career center to pick a work-study job as a first-year student. Heed the advice of the future Netflix vice president when she suggests a job in the admissions office. Create Barnard’s first overnight-visit program for prospective students of color.
Listen to Barnard senior Marcia Sells (a future dean of students at Harvard Law School) when she encourages you to run for the student seat on the Board of Trustees. Take part in the decision that Barnard will remain a women’s college instead of merging with Columbia.
After graduation, become an admissions counselor at Bowdoin, establishing minority recruitment programs there. Decide on a career in higher ed instead of health care, later earning an M.A. in student personnel administration from Columbia University’s Teachers College and an Ed.D. from Penn.
Establish minority recruitment programs at Cornell before coming to Pomona in 1990 as associate dean of admissions. Contribute to Pomona’s minority recruitment plan before moving on to become director of minority recruitment at the University of Southern California.
As director of advising for more than 18,000 undergraduates in the College of Letters and Sciences of the University of California, Berkeley, get an eye-opening look at the bureaucracy of a large public university. While furloughed amid a California budget crisis, remember the allure of small liberal arts colleges.
Go home again and call your 96-year-old father to tell him you’ve been named as Barnard’s first African American dean of the college. Feel grateful that a man who felt most comfortable talking with the public safety officers and janitors when visiting campus lived to see it.
Go home again (again). Leave behind your newly renovated childhood home in Brooklyn and return to Pomona as you are drawn back to the campus where G. Gabrielle Starr has recently become Pomona’s 10th president, the first woman and first African American to lead the campus.
Discover that April Mayes ’94 is now a professor of history at Pomona, and Nate Kirtman III ’92 is on the Board of Trustees. (Both were student workers in admissions when you worked at the College before.) Know that the seeds you planted have helped make Pomona one of the most diverse private residential liberal arts colleges in the country.