When the University of Michigan-Flint opened its doors in 1956 (it was the Flint College of the University of Michigan at that time), J. Parker Laurence was among the 118 full-time and 49 part-time students. Laurence would go on to become the first African American to graduate from UM-Flint.
Like many of the students in the first class, Laurence was in his mid-thirties when he entered the college. He shared some of what he referred to as “fond memories” of the Flint campus during an interview for an article written to commemorate UM-Flint’s 50th anniversary in 2006.
“I was accepted very well,” Laurence recalled. “I had very few problems with the students and faculty.” However, he did remember a few students who made it a point not to communicate with him, and one faculty member who would never give him a grade higher than C+.
“Dr. Wyatt was my advisor and I felt she was very concerned about me doing well,” said Laurence. “I remember getting along very well with Dr. French and I considered Dr. Murchie a friend.”
Laurence’s first job after graduating from UM-Flint was teaching junior high school science in Detroit. Shortly after he began teaching in Detroit, he was offered a teaching position in the Flint School District. However, Laurence opted to continue his teaching career in Detroit, which he did for the next twenty years. During that time, he also earned a master’s in Education at the Ohio State University and an Ed.D. in curriculum from Wayne State University.
Later, Laurence accepted a teaching position at a mission school in Zambia. He stayed at that school for five years before moving to Solusi University in Zimbabwe. He was appointed chair of the science department at Solusi and helped established their education program for new teachers, in many ways bringing his educational journey full circle.
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