Education, equity, and a brighter future.

Winston-Salem State University combines social justice with digital literacy and creativity to help students excel — and make a difference.

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Established

1892

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
www.wssu.edu

5,190

Students prepared to make the world a better place

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Objectives

Prepare students for the workforce with a portfolio of digital skills and experiences

Help students succeed with an equitable approach to digital literacy

Give students opportunities to promote social justice causes and effect real change in the world

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Results

Invested in technology and opportunities to give students hands-on experiences

Became an Adobe Creative Campus, training students and faculty across programs to gain digital literacy skills

Extended the power and reach of social justice movements with digital storytelling

A legacy of service students can believe in 

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) is a leading historically Black college and university (HBCU), recognized as one of the country’s best universities for value and social mobility — 70% percent of its graduates find employment and start earning top salaries within six months. With its leading programs in health sciences, business, and education, the university gives students of all backgrounds opportunities to thrive.

 

As Chancellor of WSSU, Dr. Elwood Robinson shares something in common with many of his students. Like 50% of the student body, he was the first in his family to attend college. And he is committed to helping them climb high, no matter what their background.  

 

“We know that where you come from and the resources you have do not dictate the talents you possess or the kind of student you’ll become,” Dr. Robinson says. “Our mission is to welcome these young people into the WSSU community and help them excel.”

 

While WSSU works to transform individual lives, it also strives for change on a societal level. The university prepares students for a life of service, instilling them with strong values in social justice so they can help make the world a better place. Giving back is ingrained in the culture and summed up in the school’s motto, “Enter to learn. Depart to serve.”

 

“Students embrace our motto, and they come to WSSU with the understanding that they will live up to it,” says Dr. Robinson. “It’s all about encouraging students to lift as they climb, and it’s central to everything we do.”


“We know that where you come from and the resources you have do not dictate the talents you possess or the kind of student you’ll become.”

 
Dr. Elwood L. Robinson

Chancellor, Winston-Salem State University


Tomorrow’s equitable society starts with digital literacy today

Over the past several years, WSSU has had to reframe its mission and motto against an increasingly digital backdrop. What does student success look like in a digital world? And what skills and experiences will help close the equity gap, giving students the ability to compete as they join the workforce?

 

For Dr. Robinson, the task ahead is all about preparing students for an uncertain future — and doing so in an equitable way. Given that many of tomorrow’s jobs don’t even exist yet, students need to stay flexible and cultivate an attitude of lifelong learning. They also need equal access to technology and real-world opportunities as they prepare to enter the workforce, from digital tools to hands-on internships, study abroad programs, undergraduate research opportunities, and mentorships. WSSU calls those “high-impact practices” because of the powerful effect they have on student achievement.

 

“When our students graduate and start to look for jobs, employers won’t just be looking at their degrees,” says Dr. Robinson. “They also want to know what’s in their portfolios, which skillsets they have, and which technologies they’ve been exposed to.”

 

By investing in technology and high-impact practices, WSSU is creating better opportunities for young people of color, many of whom come from underprivileged communities. One major investment the university has made in digital literacy was to provide all students with Adobe Creative Cloud. WSSU is the first HBCU to be designated an Adobe Creative Campus

 

“There’s so much excitement and energy around being the first HBCU to become an Adobe Creative Campus,” says Dr. Robinson. “The investment in digital literacy is helping us break down barriers between disciplines and produce multidimensional students that are as well-versed in creativity and communication as they are in the hard sciences.”


“There’s so much excitement and energy around being the first HBCU to become an Adobe Creative Campus. [It] is helping us produce multidimensional students that are as well-versed in creativity and communication as they are in the hard sciences.”

 
Dr. Elwood L. Robinson

Chancellor, Winston-Salem State University


Social movements start in the classroom, technology takes them global

Social justice is embedded in the DNA of WSSU, and by integrating creativity tools into its curriculum, WSSU faculty such as Associate Professor of Justice Studies and Program Coordinator Dr. Jack Monell are empowering a new generation of digital natives to become multimedia communicators on important issues.

 

“Setting foot on campus, it brings me great joy and honor to know that WSSU has been part of every social movement since the beginning of the 20th century,” he says. As a self-described scholarly activist, Dr. Monell knows there’s immense power in technology.

 

“Social justice activism is not limited to protesting and marching,” he says. “Here at WSSU, we encourage our students to express themselves in an equitable and empowering way using all available resources. Now more than ever, it is vital for students to use their voices to counter the misinformation we see in our society."

Dr. Monell teaches a popular course on social justice, where students identify a social issue and work with a community partner such as the Urban League, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, or a domestic violence organization to help make things better. They use Adobe Creative Cloud apps to capture field interviews and videos and deliver compelling presentations to the class and the community at large.

 

“In one case, students addressed the national case of Ronnie Long, an African American man who was wrongfully convicted and spent 44 years in jail before being released,” says Dr. Monell. “It was a textbook example of how high-impact practices, technology, and activism can be interwoven to help achieve social justice.”

 

The Ronnie Long project was spearheaded in 2014 by Dr. Denise Nation, Associate Professor and History, Politics, and Social Justice Department Chair at WSSU. Dr. Nation saw the opportunity to make a difference while giving students practical experience, and the project turned into a six-year campaign involving hundreds of students and Ronnie Long himself — before he finally walked free in August 2020. 

As part of his social justice course, Dr. Monell encourages students to explore their own identities and understand the strengths they bring to social movements — as seen in the “Social Justice Life Map” video created by one class in Adobe Spark. And they aren’t afraid to take on complex societal issues. One group examined a re-entry program for juvenile offenders. Another group tackled religion and xenophobia, visiting churches, mosques, and temples, talking with religious leaders to understand their perspectives. They recorded and compiled videos, compared the faiths, and worked to get to the bottom of the prejudices that drive discrimination, fear, and violence.

 

“What students found was that, despite their differences, the people they talked to were just people, and they were actually more alike than different,” Dr. Monell says. 

Students have also stood up for gender equality by studying the so-called Pink Tax — the unfair and discriminatory practice of charging women more for basic goods and services. They found that women pay an average of 7% more for items such as shampoo, clothing, and razors, while feminine hygiene products are taxed as luxury goods. Raising awareness is the first step toward change, and students learned how powerful visual communication can be for sending a strong message.

 

These lessons are much more vibrant than anything students can read in a textbook. Students learn they can make a difference in people’s lives, with the tools to share their ideas and inspire others.


“When students attend WSSU, they have the power to change the trajectory of their lives and their families’ lives, and that helps close the wealth gap in this country — one person at a time.”

 
Dr. Elwood L. Robinson

Chancellor, Winston-Salem State University


“Lift as you climb” — WSSU’s first Adobe Student Ambassador

One student who embodies the spirit of WSSU is Martasia Thompson. She is a senior majoring in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing, a minor in Finance, and a passion for WSSU.

 

“I chose WSSU because of how I felt when I was on campus — it felt like coming home,” Thompson says. “WSSU invests just as much in students as they invest in themselves. As long as you’re pushing yourself, the university matches that effort 100%.”

 

Thompson is a big believer in paying that investment back by lifting others as she climbs. As part of her honors program, she has devoted time and energy to community service projects and is also a pioneer and pathfinder as the university’s first-ever Adobe Student Ambassador. It’s her job to make sure students know they have free access to Adobe Creative Cloud apps — spreading the word, facilitating workshops, and sparking ideas for how students can use the apps both inside and outside the classroom.

Being an ambassador is a big responsibility — convincing nearly 5,200 students and 350 faculty to try something new is challenging. But it is also rewarding. “It’s an honor to be an ambassador,” she says. “Carrying the torch hasn’t been easy, but it definitely has been worth it.”

 

It’s worth the effort because Thompson is starting to see real change in classrooms — from art, music, and history to marketing and communications. Adobe Creative Cloud has come into play in her own studies as well, including the Shades of Black class that examines prejudices within the African American community. She and her group produced a powerful Adobe Spark page that shines a bright light on the phenomenon of “Black Think” and challenges people to think differently about group identity and personhood. 

To make a difference, start by showing up

Dr. Robinson is full of enthusiasm for the road ahead. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic he continued to show up every day, roll up his sleeves, and do what was best for students, faculty, staff, and the community.

 

“Leading during the pandemic has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” Dr. Robinson says. “As I work every day to make WSSU better, it’s my job to be at the center of the storm — and there is real peace and calm to be found there.”

 

Dr. Robinson is also grateful for the progress WSSU has made outside the classroom as it moves to a paperless campus, with more efficient administrative processes. Especially during the pandemic when in-person handoffs have not been possible, going digital with Adobe Acrobat DC has helped WSSU keep moving forward.

 

“The transition to online learning can be a slow process in higher education,” he says. “That’s why we’re glad to have an amazing partner like Adobe, who we can bounce ideas off and find ways to use technology to bring the online learning experience to life.”

 

For the students at WSSU, that commitment to progress can be life changing. “Everything we do is in service of students, and we want to make sure we’re giving them the opportunity to soar,” says Dr. Robinson. “When students attend WSSU, they have the power to change the trajectory of their lives and their families’ lives, and that helps close the wealth gap in this country — one person at a time.”

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