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PHOTO CAPTION:  Seniors complete college admission's applications at Tuskegee University on day two of the tour, March 26.

July 17, 2013
By Fonda Bock, USAREC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (July 17, 2013) -- In March, Waterloo, Iowa, Company 1st Sgt. George Ramsey led a busload of high school students on a four-state, six-day tour of 10 historically black colleges.

The annual spring college tour is sponsored by the Beta Lambda Educational Institute and the Beta Lambda Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. This was the 16th year for the tour and the fifth consecutive year chapter member Ramsey organized and led the effort.

"I want to inspire students to not just be dreamers; I want them to take action to realize their goals," said Ramsey, who grew up in the inner city of Kansas City, Mo., and was stationed in the Kansas City area from 2000 to 2012.

With encouragement from his single mom, Ramsey enrolled at the University of Kansas, paying for his education with loans, scholarships and grants. After two years of college, Ramsey decided he needed more adventure in his life and joined the Army, but later completed his education, obtaining a bachelor's in Public Administration.

"Growing up, education was important in my home, and it's important in my home now. I know that gaining an education creates opportunities," said Ramsey who has son in the Army who'll be attending college on an ROTC scholarship this fall and a daughter in high school.

Founded in 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha was the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for black men. It has evolved into primarily a service organization, and has always placed a high emphasis on education. In 1922 the organization initiated an educational program called "Go to High School, Go to College."

"The program's principal purpose is to share the importance of completing secondary education as a road to professional advancement," said Ramsey.

Members of Ramsey's Beta Lambda Chapter in Kansas City, Mo., volunteer their time and resources to assist area youth in educational training and mentoring programs.

Forty college-bound sophomores, juniors and seniors from the Kansas City area took the trip this year. Since the tour takes students to historically black colleges and universities, it attracts mostly minority students; however, Ramsey points out that every student is welcome, there's no application process, and no one is turned away.

He said the tour aims to expose students to the culture, academic programs and richness and history of HBCUs.

"While we know that not all the students will attend an HBCU, we do know they walk away with a better feeling about attending an HBCU after the tour. In addition, historically black colleges and universities have been an integral part of Cadet Command and have provided a significant number of today's African American leaders for the Army."

Many of the students who make the trip are valedictorians and salutatorians with at least a 3.0 GPA, said Ramsey. However many are at an economic disadvantage and for that reason would not consider looking at colleges and universities outside the Kansas City area.

During the tour, students receive presentations from enrollment counselors, take guided tours of the campus and have lunch. Time is also set aside for student athletes and musicians to meet with members of the athletic and music departments.

"Admissions counselors conduct interviews with the students that day. And one of the highlights of the tour is seeing seniors receive on-the-spot notification that they've been accepted for admission to a school," said Ramsey.

Students also find out if they meet academic requirements for scholarships, or if they qualify for other school-based scholarships. Last year the scholarship amount topped $300,000. So far $100,000 in scholarship money has been awarded for the upcoming school year.

Over the past 16 years, Alpha Phi Alpha has escorted more than 960 students to more than 65 HBCUs. In each of the past three years, the tour has also included a visit to one non-HBCU school of notable prestige.

Students pay a fee that covers a portion of their transportation, lodging and meals. Grants to the fraternity subsidize the remaining costs, which includes visits to historic sites and other planned activities.

Planning this tour is a yearlong process for the fraternity. As tour director, Ramsey is responsible for developing the budget and coordinating the logistics, a task that keeps him quite busy during his off-time. He's so passionate about the program that he also takes leave to lead the tour.

"I do this because I enjoy impacting young people's lives. As a village keeper, I believe we all have a responsibility to be good stewards in shaping the future of our young people and helping them reach their potential."

The sole purpose of the tour is to promote higher education, but students sometimes ask Ramsey questions about career opportunities in the Army. Ramsey said his military service is always front and center and he leads the tour like a military operation. He recently worked with a student to help her join the Army National Guard.