Washington Monthly - September/October 2016 - 67

The man, the brand: Michael Sorrell is the face-and the heart-of Paul Quinn College. laBor of love PAUL QUINN COLLEGE PRESIDENT MICHAEL SORRELL THINKS HIS WORK COLLEGE MODEL CAN THRIVE IN CITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BUT CAN IT WORK WITHOUT HIM? By Matt Connolly welve hours before Paul Quinn College's biggest day of the summer, president Michael Sorrell is meeting with his staff. There's a lot to discuss. A fund-raiser for the school's on-campus farm is scheduled for tomorrow, and after that, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is playing a free outdoor concert on the lawn outside the chapel. These are two of the most high-profile events of the year for this 450-student historically black institution located off Interstate 45 in a workingclass African American neighborhood of South Dallas. But Sorrell isn't talking about any of that right now. He's focused on how Vincent is doing at J. C. Penney. Vincent Owoseni, a junior finance major from Brooklyn, is interning at the Texas-based department store chain as part of Paul Quinn's work program, in which all students hold jobs on or off campus to help defray the cost of their education. But, Sorrell tells the room, Owoseni was having some trouble adjusting to the position-he was placed in the shipping department, which he wasn't prepared for. Sorrell seems conflicted about the news. On the one hand, he tells his staff that Vincent needs to Courtesy of Dear World t understand that unexpected assignments are part of any career and that he'll learn just as much from the logistics side of J. C. Penney as from the customer-facing side. On the other hand, he treats the news as a possible warning sign. "He's one of the best students we've got here," Sorrell says. "If he's having trouble, how is everyone else doing?" He assigns staffers to check in on other students who might be in similar situations. When I later catch up with Owoseni, he expresses no surprise that his name came up in the meeting. Sorrell, he says, has been in touch throughout the internship. Indeed, he'd been reaching out to him since high school. Owoseni was valedictorian at City Polytechnic High School, and Sorrell flew out to meet him. "He was very inspiring," Owoseni says. "He asked what I wanted to do. Then he told me, 'You can do better than that.' " "Better than that" is a fair description of Sorrell's own aspirational leadership philosophy, and of the school's trajectory since he took over as president in 2007. He arrived to find a college that was on the verge of closing its doors, buried under a mountain of debt with more than a dozen abandoned buildWashington Monthly 67

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