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DSU Riverfront: Collaborating to Support Education and Shape the Future Workforce

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DSU President Tony Allen and Joe Wescott, the Capital One Delaware Market President, cut the ribbon on the DSU Riverfront building, accompanied by U.S. Senator Tom Carper, Gov. John Carney, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and U.S. Senator Chris Coons. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

Delaware State University is on the move. Founded in 1891, the Dover, Delaware-based school finalized the purchase of nearby Wesley College in 2021. Now the state’s only historically Black university is settling into a red brick building on the Wilmington Riverfront to bring career-oriented programs to city-area residents.

The new programming is the result of a partnership with Capital One, which donated the $4.7 million building to DSU. When fully operational, the site will house the university’s school for graduate, adult and extended studies, nonprofit The Warehouse’s workforce development program for teens, and a small-business incubation hub targeting minority- and womenowned companies.

Capital One Delaware Market President Joe Westcott envisions this partnership as a way for the bank to strengthen its bond with DSU and accelerate plans to attract and retain talent within a historically Black university or college (HBCU).

“At Capital One, we’re looking for the best talent and in Delaware, in Wilmington and at DSU, they have great talent,” Westcott says. “This new partnership will allow us to really spearhead our programs, as well as develop relationships with students well before internship time.”

High Tech Meets History

The location is fitting. The Underground Railroad came through Wilmington, and the park near DSU’s riverfront building is named Tubman-Garrett Park for Harriet Tubman and abolitionist Thomas Garrett.

“It’s very important for an HBCU to be connected with and serve the communities that look like a HBCU, and I think it’s imperative that we are in a central city with a Black population and a growing Latino population, as well as a place with many aspiring first-year college students,” says DSU President Tony Allen. “This is a grand opportunity that has come to us, and it effectively anchors our presence in Wilmington and the broader metropolitan region.”

The nearly 150-year-old structure has witnessed quite a few changes since its construction. For instance, in 1962, an electric company occupied the site, followed by an auction house. ING Direct, an internet bank without physical branches, took up residence in the early 2000s, and in 2012, Capital One purchased ING.

In 2018, Capital One vacated the building as part of a move to consolidate office operations, and in 2021, donated its former office to DSU.

Time did not stand still in the years that the building stood empty, and the DSU team has been busy updating the systems in the six-story building.

“Technology turns over so frequently and needs to be upgraded,” explains Patrice Gilliam-Johnson, DSU’s dean of graduate, adult and extended studies. “We need to upgrade to have everything we need for our classes and anything else that will be operated from here.”

Indeed, a post-COVID learning environment offers multiple paths to learning. The riverfront location will host in-person classes for hybrid graduate programs, including public administration, sports administration and social work. However, some graduate courses will continue in Dover and Georgetown.

The university cut the ribbon on the building in February 2022. Since then, most of DSU’s graduate admissions office and a portion of the IT program have moved to the city, Gilliam-Johnson says. (The university had had a satellite site on Kirkwood Highway for nearly a decade.)

The 35,000-square-foot structure has an open layout with exposed beams, brick walls and archways. “Most of the furniture is and will be modular, so we can build the spaces to meet the needs of our students,” Gilliam-Johnson says. Given that there are six floors — and five conference rooms — the space can handle multiple classes at once, she adds.

She hopes that the Warehouse workforce development initiative will be up and running in summer 2023. Meanwhile, DSU has used the downtown building for meetings and retreats. Community partners, including the Metropolitan Urban League, have also held events at 1 South Orange Street.

“We’ve been working with the Wilmington Learning Collaborative and provided meeting space for them as well,” Gilliam-Johnson says.

The entrepreneurial initiative for female and minority business owners is operating with CURE (Center for Urban Revitalization and Entrepreneurship).

An Ongoing Relationship

Capital One’s donation to DSU in 2021 is part of a $200 million campaign to close the gap in equity and opportunity.

“Today is a proud day for Capital One and for me personally,” said Westcott at the 2022 ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I began my career here on the fifth floor, and I know that in the next chapter, this building will continue to grow the next generation of business and community leaders. I could not be more proud to stand here.”

In addition to the donation, Capital One launched a mentorship program that pairs executives with DSU sophomores. The Capital One Foundation also provides $270,000 in grants to DSU’s experiential learning program, which helps students build a bridge between the college classroom and a career.

Gilliam-Johnson says a focus on upskilling and reskilling is needed statewide, and DSU has plans to increase programs in Georgetown for Sussex County residents. Meanwhile, a doctorate in social work is in development, and DSU is researching how to offer certificate programs to students while they’re still working on their degrees.

“It will make students more marketable, in addition to their degree,” she says.

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