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Dr. Carmen J. Walters: Preparing Students to Become Lifelong Learners

Garnering various experiences from diverse fields and gradually shaping herself to be a leader in the educational sector, Dr. Carmen J. Walters has come a long way.

As the President of Tougaloo College, Dr. Carmen aims to promote its mission to prepare its students to be lifelong learners committed to leadership and service in a global society through its diverse undergraduate and graduate programs.

Tougaloo College is accessible to everyone and is keen on making students aware of its rich legacy as an independent, historically black liberal arts institution affiliated with the United Church of Christ and Christian Church.

We caught up with Dr. Carmen and discussed her personal and professional journey, future goals, and much more.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Briefly discuss your career path as a staunch woman leader up until your current position.

My career spans more than 25 years, including recruiting, grant writing, strategic planning, fundraising, budgeting, mentoring, and leadership development. Every position has prepared me to become a college president. Working at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) enables me to apply many leadership principles, including nurturing students to ensure their success. I push myself to connect to students in a way that provides them comfort and confidence as they make Tougaloo College their home.

What challenges did you face along the way?

My path as a staunch woman leader was like other black female leaders—complex and filled with insurmountable challenges. Nonetheless, I always relied on my strong upbringing through all the challenging times. My challenges center around the consecutive loss of family members, including my husband and daughter simultaneously having cancer.

I experienced the tragic death of my husband and the miracle of my daughter’s remission from cancer within 12 months. These challenging experiences strengthened me and contributed to my understanding of my inner self and strengths.

My parents had 13 children and worked hard to take care of us. We were never on welfare and understood that we had to work for what we wanted. My father’s favorite saying was, “children, don’t give up until you are dead and covered up!” My father’s grandmother used to say this statement to him and his siblings, and he told it to us consistently.

My father’s grandmother was born into slavery and was freed at the age of 12 and already married. Her name was Charlotte, and in her later years, she lived with my father and his parents until her death. She made sure my father and his siblings knew what it was like to be enslaved, so she made them promise they would take advantage of their freedom. Although he was a young boy when she died, he never forgot her teachings and shared them with us.

Through all my challenges, tragedies, and successes, I depend on Charlotte’s strength, resilience, tenacity, and faith to do the work I am called to do.

What significant impact have you brought to the educational sector?

In higher education at the senior executive level, women often lack mentors to help them be successful. I benefitted from a thoughtful mentor who shared knowledge and support, allowing me to grow professionally and personally. I am committed to mentoring female leaders to help them navigate a complex environment and avoid hurdles that prohibit them from being successful in achieving their goals.

Tell us about Tougaloo College and its foundation pillar.

Founded in 1869, Tougaloo College, a Choctaw word that means where two streams converge, academic excellence and social justice, is a private historically black college and one of the leading HBCUs in the United States. Tougaloo’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, operating as a “safe haven” for activists to meet, organize, and strategize, changed the landscape of Mississippi and the nation. Living our mission of academic excellence and social justice, we continue to prepare students to graduate fully capable of answering the call to leadership, meeting the challenges of informed citizenship, and excelling in their chosen professions as difference-makers in a global marketplace.

What methodologies do you implement that contribute to new growth opportunities?

Forge strategic partnerships with educational institutions, corporations, foundations, and organizations that support the College’s mission delivery enhance our students’ academic experiences, expand opportunities, provide pathways to employment, generate revenue, and help raise the institution’s respected profile.

What is your take on technology’s importance, and how are you leveraging it?

The challenges of the 21st century forced Tougaloo to reimagine technology to improve teaching and learning, provide better services, communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders, and offer personalized learning experiences tailored to meet the needs of students. The College recently outsourced its IT services to the world’s largest technology company to ensure the infrastructure and accountability framework for integrating information and overseeing the implementation of an IT governance structure and strategic technology plan, charting a path to the future.

What will be the next significant change in the educational sector, and how are you preparing for it?

Technology is constantly evolving, and the Net Generation demands to control their knowledge attainment on their own time and from anywhere. Therefore, the institution is transitioning to more digital learning platforms to promote collaborative learning, share content, and create virtual spaces to enhance students’ learning experiences in and out of the classroom.

What are your goals in the upcoming future?

Tougaloo College launched its 2021-2026 strategic plan, Preserving the Past, Advancing Tomorrow, a comprehensive road map focused on the following strategic goals: enrollment growth, student success, philanthropic giving, alum engagement, economic development, strategic partnerships, and technology. Our plan represents our stakeholders’ voices committed to ensuring that Tougaloo continues to live its mission of preparing students to thrive and contribute to a changing world.

What advice would you like to give the next generation of aspiring leaders?

Transformative leadership begins with an understanding of self, revolves around responsibility, accountability, and dependability, and they have a role to play in creating a just, sustainable, and inclusive society.