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AFIMSC Airman helps secure Air Force, HBCU partnership 

  • Published
  • By Craig Z. Rodarte
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – An Air Force Installation and Mission Support Airman played a pivotal role in helping a former teammate establish a partnership between Air University and Fayetteville State University marking it as the first Historically Black College or University to join the AU Associate-to-Baccalaureate Cooperative Program.   

The AU-ABC program helps Airmen pursue advanced education by partnering with more than 100 civilian institutions to create a near seamless transition of credits from the Community College of the Air Force and career training to apply towards earning a bachelor’s degree. 

“Growing up, I always wanted to attend an HBCU but couldn’t afford college expenses until I joined the Air Force,” former Staff Sgt. Michelia Rivera-Acosta said. “As I was exploring schools for a bachelor’s program, I noticed there weren’t any HBCUs in the AU-ABC program.” 

After Rivera-Acosta realized there wasn’t an HBCU partner on the list of over 100 institutions, she turned to her mentor and former teammate, Senior Master Sgt. Darnell Dobson, with AFIMSC Detachment 4 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to help spearhead a year-long initiative to get FSU adopted as the first HBCU into the program.   

“I knew that I couldn’t be the only Airman who wanted a degree from a school designed for educating African Americans and minorities, and I wanted other Airmen to have the option to attend an HBCU as well through the AU-ABC program,” Rivera-Acosta said. “I knew that I could depend on Senior to help me find the red tape to cut.” 

HBCUs are accredited college institutions established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide higher education to Black Americans. They were initially conceived to provide educational opportunities to those denied access to higher education because of the color of their skin but now offer opportunities to students of all races. 

“FSU is one of the most diverse HBCUs in the country. We are excited about this partnership because we are committed to supporting our military,” said Dr. Cierra Griffin, executive director for adult learners, transfer, and military students and the lead for this project. “Senior Master Sgt. Dobson and Ms. Rivera-Acosta initiated the conversation for this partnership, allowing FSU to strengthen their affinity for educating active-duty, retired, reserve service members and their families.” 

Before separating from the Air Force in October 2023 to pursue a career with Veterans Affairs, Rivera-Acosta recognized there was an opportunity for growth within the AU-ABC program and knew she could turn to Dobson, to help make a change. 

“I’ve known Michy since 2020 where we collaborated on the diversity and inclusion council at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana,” Dobson said. “It was clear that we both have a passion for removing any prejudicial barriers and promoting an environment where everyone is welcome.” 

Dobson, naturally, was a great teammate for Rivera-Acosta. His leadership and knowledge of the enterprise is evident through this project and his career. He recently received the AFIMSC nomination for the 2024 Blacks in Government Meritorious Service Award. 

This award honors military members and Department of Defense civilian employees who have supported the DoD mission, overseas contingency operations, or whose attributes best epitomized the qualities and core values of their respective military branch or other DoD component. 

With the support of Dobson, Rivera-Acosta selected FSU as the first HBCU she wanted to add to the AU-ABC program, even though neither one of them were local to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  

I chose it because I had fond memories of it as my first duty station and I have another mentor there, Rivera-Acosta said.  

Rivera-Acosta spent hours researching the faculty to find the military department and appropriate points of contact. She and Dobson worked tirelessly creating metrics outlining the pros and cons of adopting the AU-ABC program and pitched it to the university, which supported the effort. The duo then facilitated introductions for FSU to the appropriate contacts at Air University to help build a relationship, establish a partnership and take part in Air Force and Black history. 

“Throughout this entire process, I kept thinking about all the doors this would open up for my brothers and sisters,” Rivera-Acosta said. “I kept picturing Airmen walking around in an ‘HBCU Educated’ shirt in their off-hours, the path of commission through HBCUs and how larger enrollment would help these schools live and thrive.” 

After several dots and people were connected, FSU went through an extensive AU-ABC application and vetting process. This allows not only Air University to verify the applying university meets the standard but also allows the university to determine which Community College of the Air Force associate degree or degrees to link to its own bachelor’s degree programs. 

Through persistence, leadership and guidance, FSU is now the first, hopefully first of many, HBCUs to partner with the AU-ABC program. The university offers several AU-ABC approved bachelor’s degree programs, soon to include Dobson’s area of expertise, Fire and Emergency Services Administration. 

“Although this is just one of more than 100 partnerships with Air University, Fayetteville State University is a historic addition,” Dobson said. “I’m proud of that.”  

“I feel accomplished, like I left a positive, lasting mark on the Air Force and FSU,” Rivera-Acosta said. “I don’t care if anyone remembers my name or the work put in. I am excited for this opportunity that now lives with our Airmen.”