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Community Advocacy Organization

The Chronicle News HBCU Spotlight-Ward "Skillz" Beard Attended Alabama A&M

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

By Bettye Thomas-Gilkey

Ward Beard-Alabama A & M Graduate

Courtesy Photo-Ward Beard

Ward “Skillz” Beard is a graduate of the Historically Black College, Alabama A & M University, located in Normal, Alabama, near Huntsville. He decided as a high school student to attend a Black college and knew this was the school for him when participating on the Annual Lansing Black College Tour by Fred Porter and Amel Eiland.They visited several colleges, but he was drawn to Alabama A &M because of the beautiful campus and how quickly he was accepted to the university. Upon his arrival, Ward discovered that one of his best friends went there and had already acclimated to the University with a working knowledge of its ins and outs.

“A primary reason that I wanted to go there was because they wanted me too,” Ward said. Another attractive feature about the University was “the beauty of its campus”. It reflected “a peaceful, relaxing feel that I felt was conducive for an academic environment. The atmosphere just appeared to be people-friendly.” Beard liked the fact that “there was a lot of people from across the country.”

A key academic factor was that the campus “was small enough to get help and build relationship with the instructors” which is critical for student success. Another asset, in Ward’s opinion was the financial aid accommodations. There were few, if any obstacles to acquiring and maintaining his stream of financial support, which “is one less thing to worry about as a college student.” “Financial Aid was a fairly straightforward process at Alabama A & M if your grades are in order.” he added. “Grades can make or break you so take heed early. If you’re in middle school, get on top of your math, develop and strengthen those skills so you won’t have to take a lot of remedial classes when you get on campus. The worst thing is, as a student, is to play catch up when you’re focused on getting that degree.”

Ward encountered a minor setback early in his college career when a medical situation forced him back home for surgery. The leave required a long took time to physically recover from. As soon as he was able, however, he went back to school to resume his studies.

“Upon returning to campus, I realized I should have dropped or withdrawn from my classes before leaving and didn’t. This negatively affected my grade point average and financial aid status. Because of that, I was placed on academic probation and had to enroll as a part-time student for a while. I could only take nine credits a semester until I earned enough to regain my full-time status. I would not be eligible for financial aid again until I raised my GPA. The journey was costly, difficult and often discouraging if you’re not determined to succeed. I was determined, and I did it!”

His advice to college students whose life situations cause them to take a break from college is to learn what is required beforehand and do what’s necessary to get that degree. “Stick it out and finish,” Beard said. It’s no secret that HBCU’S are infamous for the social environment. Ward concurred wholeheartedly. “Since the school had a reputation for its social life, quite naturally there was a lot of partying going on both on campus and off. But a person like me could easily get distracted, especially when your roommate and best friends were deejaying most of the parties on campus and everywhere else. I’m sure most black college students will tell you it’s challenging to balance partying with academics,” he admitted. “But it is.”

Ward tried his hand at working as a disc jockey as a college intern at V103-ATL in Atlanta for the summer, which was an exciting new experience. The Atlanta traffic was the main deterrent, in his opinion, but he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity just the same. He also got disc jockey experience with 103.1 FM in Huntsville, Alabama, for a time. All was in preparation for his current venture with Lansing’s 89.7 FM.

Consequently, he developed the format and moniker for “Mitten Mayhem” whose broad listener appeal has been far-reaching across the country. The quality of music and talent he has introduced on his late-night radio show is noteworthy.

Ward “Skillz” credits his radio experience to the radio classes he initially took in high school. He has always been a music lover and knew early in life that he would develop a career around music. This is what led to choosing a major in Telecommunications. Ward described the program as having three fields of study: Production (project coordination), Performance (on camera) and Engineering (the technical/collaborative coordination). The program taught him to edit songs/video, develop speaking dynamics that enhance your on-camera presence, develop stories, write production and various aspects of journalism as well.

Although he thoroughly enjoyed the coursework, he was challenged by the many pre-requisites that he did not feel were relevant. “I knew a lot of the classes were not necessary” but it was essential for degree completion.” Beard believes students are forced to take classes that "don’t help them in everyday life.” He believes that is problematic for institutions of higher learning across the board.

In addition to producing his own radio show, Ward has been acting since 2009. He started out as an extra in his first “gig” as a prison inmate. He was excited when he made the edit and was able to see himself on film. That led to greater opportunities in the film-making industry. “It was so much fun that I tried out for more gigs. I learned how to land successful leads and market myself more effectively,” he said. “The film career keeps me moving around. I like that. I’ve filmed in Royal Oak, Grand Rapids and Detroit, so far.” Expect to see and hear more about this aspiring actor and deejay who has exciting potential and massive appeal!

Alabama A & M University is a public, land-grant institution, founded in 1870 as the State Normal and Industrial School of Huntsville. Its name was changed in 1969. Currently the college reports 5,333 undergraduate and 1,123 graduate students. There are 41 bachelor degree programs, 23 graduate programs and five doctoral degrees offered by the institution. The student/teacher ratio is 20:1 and there are 348 faculty members on staff.

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