ON Friday evening at the University of Lowell, a lone light shines from an otherwise deserted administration building. Prof. Wayne Dudley has already put in a long day as director of minority affairs, but Ena Williams, a first-semester student from Jamaica, is still trying to choose her courses. So he stays.
This kind of dedication is helping Lowell counter the sobering trend of declining numbers of blacks in college and graduate schools. It is also helping the university in this 19th-century industrial town respond to a government citation issued a couple of years ago for poor minority recruitment.
Black enrollment at graduate schools across the nation dropped by 22 percent between 1976 and 1984, but in just two years, Dr. Dudley has almost single-handedly increased the number of minority students at Lowell from seven to 102. Lowell's pool of undergraduate minorities is growing as well.
Students of varied nationalities stream in and out of his office in Southwick Hall. As a place where tutoring, business contacts, and even rides can be found, the sparsely furnished office has become a focal point of both personal and academic support for these students.
``When I first arrived, I had problems with calculus, and he found someone to help,'' says graduate student Elsie Williams Ewing.
His students - many of whom feel they might not be in school without his support - say his tireless efforts to recruit and then watch over them make the difference.
Dudley, who grew up in a small town in south Georgia, says his father, a sharecropper with only a second-grade education, used to tell him he was wasting time with his books. Four degrees, a tenured professorship, and accolades later, Dudley is proving that dedication toward getting an education pays off. What's needed, he says, is having someone believe in you.
A stutterer as a child, Dudley says he was ``very, very shy'' about talking in school until a history teacher noticed his efforts to learn. Intrigued by a picture of Henry the VIII, Dudley became an avid historian, reading everything on European monarchs he could find. ``I blossomed in the classroom because that teacher took a special interest in me.''
Recalling other teachers who promoted his studies, Dudley says his ``mission'' is to encourage and provide a safety net for those who can't otherwise afford to go to college. He rocks his head back and closes his eyes a little as he talks about years spent in a tin-roofed shack - sans running water and electricity - with his parents and eight brothers and sisters.
Not only has he, on occasion, driven car pools of students to and from campus, but he also sometimes dips into his own pockets for loans to students who can't pay for their books.
Dudley redefines the ``eligible'' minority student as anyone - a professional or student elsewhere - who wants to go back to school and might need some help to do so. He and his community contacts find such students and help smooth the transition from community to university. A personalized work-study plan, in which services - ranging from office assistance to community work - are exchanged for classes, is the basis of the financing.
Ms. Ewing, an office assistant, enters Dudley's office looking for Ken Carter, a black freshman from Georgia. Ken wants a job outside of school, and she has some ideas for him.
Ewing, who encouraged Ena Williams to come to Lowell, was working to pay off undergraduate loans from the University of Toronto. She talked with Dudley and decided to enroll in Lowell's MBA program. ``His office is always there with its doors open,'' she says.
A college student in the '60s, Dudley marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and alongside his casket. His sense of mission, he says, is based on that of the civil rights movement and its leaders.
According to many Lowell administrators, the quality of new minority students Dudley has brought into the graduate and undergraduate programs is even higher than in previous years.
``They are very bright people,'' says Luis Garc'ia, one of Dudley's community contacts. ``But I don't think many of them would be where they are without Dr. Dudley's assistance.''
While citing the still low numbers of minorities at Lowell, Dr. Charles Willie, of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, commends Dudley's efforts as ``a marvelous achievement,'' emphasizing the importance of getting blacks and Hispanics into graduate programs.
Dudley believes his program is adaptable to every type of educational institution. But, he says, limited financial aid funds remain a hurdle to increasing minority enrollment.
``Many students have just lost faith in the system,'' he says. ``But the program assistants can help infuse a sense of confidence and faith in something that works. They can go back [to their communities] and say, `Education really pays. I am going back, you can do it, too.'''