“Asif Wilson is an education role model,” reads a paper written by one of Dr. Asif Wilson’s students from an Introduction to African American Studies course he taught in 2016. But the now-Dean of Instruction at Harold Washington College admits he didn’t expect to find a career in education. In fact, he originally went to school with the goal of becoming a veterinarian and, later, a sound engineer.
It wasn’t until Dean Wilson was offered a summer internship at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) – one he took more out of necessity than interest – that he realized he could make a difference for young people, especially young Black people, by working in the education sector. Ultimately, that internship inspired him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education – and after that, it led him to a teaching position as a seventh and eighth grade science and social studies teacher in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
As a junior high teacher, Wilson tried to offer an experience different from the one he received when he was young. He set out to teach his students – the majority of whom were Black – about the often under told stories of African American mathematicians, scientists, historians, and more, so that they could see themselves in those monumental figures and understand that their contributions matter. When the junior high school he was working at closed, Wilson brought his approach to the world of higher education, first as an instructor at the University of Chicago and then at Harold Washington College.
Through all of his different experiences in the field, Wilson says he’s been guided by the same principle – “to embody more equitable and just ideologies and practices in education.” At Harold Washington College, where over 80% of students identify as Black, Latinx, or Asian, he’s able make meaningful progress doing just that.
While Wilson’s official responsibilities as the Dean of Instruction include working with staff and faculty to create learning conditions where students can be successful, he’s also become a mentor to several students, including recent graduate Kaming Leung, who said Dean Wilson helped him step out of his comfort zone. Through his conversations with students, he not only tries to help them accomplish their professional goals, but he also wants to help them use their knowledge beyond the classroom and workplace. He wants to contribute to their transformation, so they can, in turn, transform their communities.
For Dean Asif Wilson, it seems like a natural part of the job – but to Harold Washington College students, staff, and faculty alike, he’s an education role model.