Teanu Reid ’16
Teanu Reid came to Brooklyn College undecided about her major, but she ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in history. She also began giving back to her school as early as her freshman year, applying for and being hired for the school’s annual phonathon fundraiser. A joint Ph.D. student in history and African American studies at Yale University, Reid tells us about her time at Brooklyn College, how she began her “career” of giving back, and how, as an alumna, she continues to support her alma mater.
What decided you on your major and your field of study?
I took a bunch of electives before I decided on my major. I originally came in thinking that I was going to be a STEM major. I took bio and chem, and it’s not that I did badly in them. But I realized I wasn’t passionate about the sciences. I had taken AP history courses in high school, so I took some of the more advanced history classes my sophomore year in college because I had the pre-requisites, and those were interesting. I had fun in those classes, but I also saw a lot of women faculty teaching and leading those classrooms, so I could see myself being a professor. And the syllabi included women and people of color so I also saw myself reflected in the curriculum. It felt like history would be a good field of study.
So you graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history and you are making your post-graduation plans.
While I was at Brooklyn College, I joined the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program. The program helped me decide on going to grad school and what type of Ph.D. program to choose. I had also started a business/econ minor and I wanted to do something that engaged and focused on people, while studying how the economy affected different cultures historically. Through the Mellon Mays program and mentorship, I received a lot of support to figure out what to do and where to go, even how to apply to grad school. All of which was especially helpful since I am an immigrant and a first-generation student.
As an alumna you have been integral in giving back to Brooklyn College, but even as a student you started giving back.
I worked on the phonathon all four years while I was there. I had never had a real job before as a freshman. I came straight out of high school, I signed up for it, and I got it. And I went back every semester after. It was fun working with Patty Allen [director of the annual fund]. I also worked at a couple of the BC galas (Best of Brooklyn) and other fundraiser events. Since I graduated, I’ve come back for a career panel about graduate school education and postgraduate studies. I’ve also been called by the phonathon and given then, and to the emergency fund during the pandemic.
When you were on the phone with alumni as an undergraduate, what were the conversations like?
Many women, immigrant, and Black-American alumni told me they loved their experience at Brooklyn College because it was the thing that allowed them to be upwardly mobile. Doors were opened for them and they appreciated their time on campus. They were the alumni who wanted to give, even if they were giving small amounts. And then there were the alumni who would talk to me and give me advice. They would wish me good luck.
Sometimes I would hear from those donors that gave smaller amounts of $20 or $10, “It’s not a lot, I don’t have more, I’m sorry.” And one of the things I would always say to them is five $20 donations is one hundred bucks. I don’t necessarily have that big donation money yet. But it’s something I want to work toward.
You were accepted to Yale, where you’re working on your Ph.D.
One of the reasons I decided to attend Yale was because there are other students from Brooklyn College, CUNY, and the MMUF program here. There’s a whole community of CUNY alum, including another BC grad and friend I knew from before I graduated. There are other CUNY people from Hunter, Queens College, City College, and because of that I didn’t have to do a lot of fitting in. There are all these people just like me: We’re from New York, we’re first-gen students, and not rich. They showed me around and help me navigate the Ph.D. program. Even here, my Brooklyn College experience is a positive experience for me; that’s part of why I give back.
In the last week of the American economics class that I taught last semester, we talked about upward mobility with degrees being very tangible for graduates from Brooklyn College and other CUNY schools; wherever you start, you can move up the ranks with an education from Brooklyn College. It was a part of our large discussion about the value of bachelor’s degrees, especially when considering rising costs and increasing student loan debt versus opportunities for career and economic advancement post-graduation. Part of the reason I kept doing the phonathon was that we were raising the money for scholarships; I applied for every scholarship under the sun and ended up not needing any student loans between my three jobs, MMUF, and the scholarships. So, I loved helping to get donations for other students to have access to scholarships as well. Another part of why I give back to the institution today is to keep paying things forward to current and future Brooklyn College students.