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Events celebrating the recent inauguration of Tuskegee University President Lily D. McNair continued beyond her formal investiture on March 15 and included an Inaugural Symposia on Saturday, March 16.
Three separate panel discussions comprised the symposia, which centered on McNair’s theme of “a new era of leadership and excellence.” Each panel, consisted of mentors and colleagues throughout McNair’s career, explored the contributions of African-American female leaders in higher education, business and religion. Panelists shared about their own leadership journeys in their respective fields, while also adding their observations for how everyone can better strengthen and foster future opportunities for women.
Led by Interim Provost Dr. Roberta Troy, the first of the three panels focused on leadership and excellence in higher education, and included a panel of three highly seasoned women who served in a variety of education-based executive leadership roles.
“I really started thinking I had not given back to the black community as I could,” said Dr. Marvalene Hughes, whose higher education career would ultimately include service as president at both Dillard University, an HBCU, and California State University, Stanislaus, and who holds an honorary doctorate from Tuskegee. “I decided I wanted to pay it back. I tell my students that even today, you need to pay it forward.”
Hughes was joined by fellow HBCU presidents emerita Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, who at one time served as president of Spelman College, and Dr. Dorothy Yancy, whose previous leadership appointments included college presidencies at Johnson C. Smith University and Shaw University.
The program also highlighted women’s leadership in religion during its second panel discussion. Rev. Brenda Shuford, a faculty member in Tuskegee’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts, led dialogue that included Rev. Yolanda Pierce, professor and dean of Howard University’s School of Divinity, and Dr. Love Sechrest of the Columbia Theological Seminary, where she serves as vice president for academic affairs, dean of faculty, and associate professor of New Testament studies.
“I speak to God in public, and one of the important pieces of my academic and faith journey is that it’s public — which provides a space for me to talk about faith, religion and theology to audiences who are not necessarily going to church every Sunday morning,” Pierce said.
Both she and Sechrest also encouraged members of the audience to purse their passions and seek leadership roles in their desired career paths.
Moderating the final panel on leadership and excellence in business was Norma B. Clayton, a retired Boeing vice president and current first vice chair of the university’s Board of Trustees. Panelists included Juanita Logan, executive director of business development and community affairs with World Wide Technology, and Teresa White, president of Aflac U.S.
“I want those who come behind me to always have a go-getter spirit and remember to discover new talents — doing so could help catapult you in a direction you never knew existed,” White noted.
Clayton shared her own encouragement by quoting female trailblazer Shirley Chisholm, who once stated: “When there’s not a seat at the table for you, bring your own chair.”
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