The stories behind the names on the buildings


In recognition of Black History Month, the American Association of Community Colleges invited a dozen of its member colleges to highlight buildings on their campuses that are named after prominent African Americans — whether national, regional or local — and to provide a little background on them.

Below are the first six featured colleges (in alphabetical order). The next six will be featured tomorrow.

Community College of Allegheny County (Pennsylvania)

Widely acknowledged as the “father” of the community college system in Pennsylvania, K. Leroy Irvis was an inspirational leader who helped transform the lives of residents of the commonwealth and beyond. A pioneer in education and the law, the voice of the people in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives and a humanitarian who fought to end discrimination while promoting the health and safety of the nation’s newborns, Irvis was a renaissance man for the ages.

In tribute to his life, the Community College of Allegheny County constructed the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center in 2012, nearly 50 years after the founding of the state’s first community college. Located in Pittsburgh’s historic North Shore, the center features innovative green operating systems, which earned it a LEED Silver energy rating. The vanguard facility’s science and technology labs are equipped with eLearning capabilities and advanced lab apparatuses and instrumentation, with interfaces for computer assistance in real-time data acquisition.

Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio)

In June 2022, the Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) board of trustees approved a resolution to rename the renovated campus center on the Metropolitan Campus the Alex B. Johnson Campus Center in honor of Tri-C’s fourth president. Johnson served as president from 2013 up to his retirement in 2022. Under his leadership, construction on the $38-million campus center project began in 2017 and opened in 2019, transforming the entrance of the Metro Campus into a welcoming space for students and visitors.

In 2013, former Tri-C President Jerry Sue Thornton’s name was added to the school’s Institutional Advancement Building, which was formerly owned by the Visiting Nurse Association of Cleveland. Thornton served for 21 years as the president of Ohio’s largest community college and gave significant financial gifts to the college’s foundation.

The Nolen M. Ellison Manufacturing Technology Center, formerly the Unified Technologies Center, was named in honor of Tri-C’s second president, who served from 1974 to 1991. Ellison recognized the radical changes taking place in Greater Cleveland in the early 1980s and that once-productive manufacturing plants were going idle as new industries were developing elsewhere. The Unified Technologies Center was built to provide training on new manufacturing techniques and technologies.

Drake State Community & Technical College (Alabama)

The college’s S.C. O’Neal Library and Technology Center (LTC) was completed in 2006. The LTC is the forwardmost building on campus, and it acts as the epicenter of the campus. Upon completion of renovations in March 2024, the library will be home to classrooms, computer labs, a library center, veterans affairs, a testing center, student services, the office of the dean of students and other departments.

On December 1, 1961, S.C. O’Neal was appointed the first president of J.F. Drake State Technical College (initially named the Huntsville State Vocational Technical School). Under O’Neal’s administration, the school grew from an enrollment of 27 students to more than 850 upon his retirement in 1982.

Miami Dade College (Florida)

The Dr. Roy G. Phillips Center, formerly known as Building A at Miami Dade College’s (MDC) Homestead Campus, stands as a tribute to the legacy of Roy G. Phillips, the institution’s founding president. The facility, the oldest on the campus, has been a focal point for various departments, including the student life department, the school for advanced studies, TRIO student support services and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy.

Born in Minden, Louisiana, in 1935, Phillips played a pivotal role in the development of MDC, joining in 1980 as vice president at the North Campus and later becoming the founding president of the Homestead Campus in 1990. During his 11-year tenure, he championed the expansion of curriculum programs, ensuring that essential courses like science were accessible to students in the southernmost regions of Miami-Dade County. Phillips collaborated with Rep. Carrie P. Meek to secure funding for the construction of Building F, housing part of MDC’s aviation program.

Monroe Community College (New York)

The Monroe Community College (MCC) residence hall complex and conference room are named for Dr. Alice Holloway Young, a trailblazing educator and lifelong champion of education. Young joined the Rochester City School District (RCSD) in 1952 and was one of its first African American teachers. She served as the district’s first Black vice principal and the first Black principal, implementing various district-wide programs over the next three decades that transformed Rochester’s educational character and commitment. Holloway Young was also a founding trustee of MCC in 1961, among the first to believe that a community college would benefit Rochester and city residents. She shaped the direction and vision of the college throughout her 62-year dedicated and inspiring service on the board as chair and chair emerita.

Montgomery College (Maryland)

The Dr. DeRionne P. Pollard Student Affairs and Science Building holds labs and classroom spaces for physics, physical science, engineering, geology, astronomy, meteorology, and landscape technology and will soon include space for the computer science program. In addition, its Math, Accounting, Physics, Engineering, Learning (MAPEL) Center, an engineering workshop flanked by the engineering design lab and the engineering projects lab, will come online soon. In 2010, Pollard became the first African American woman to serve as the college’s CEO. She led the college until 2021, when she was named president of Nevada State College. At Montgomery College, Pollard led the development of a new college mission and strategic plan. She also partnered with Montgomery County Public Schools and the Universities at Shady Grove in the creation of Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success, a support program to help disadvantaged students transition from high school to college completion.

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