February 18, 2020

Celebrating Black History Month with Today’s SEC Leaders

By: SEC Staff
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

Black History Month signifies a celebration of culture, perseverance, and innovation – past and present. This year, we focus on the present as we highlight noteworthy African American leaders from across the SEC who embody the spirit and drive this month represents.

Keep reading to learn more about these trailblazers from all areas of campus and across numerous disciplines.

University of Alabama – Dr. Samory Pruitt, Vice President for Community Affairs

In 2004, the University of Alabama named Dr. Samory Pruitt as its first Vice President for the Division of Community Affairs. A three-time graduate of the university, Dr. Pruitt fully understood the mission of the division – and the space it occupied on campus. Since his appointment, he has worked ceaselessly to support the “transference of resources and leadership from within the walls of academe into the classrooms, church halls and businesses of the community” surrounding the Capstone.

University of Arkansas – Dr. Charles F. Robinson, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs*

Dr. Charles F. Robinson manages 25 departments and led the recent construction of Adohi Hall – a $79 million sustainable housing project that opened in fall 2019 at the University of Arkansas. A highly accomplished lecturer, his work at Arkansas has earned him the Fulbright College Master Teacher Award and the Arkansas Alumni Distinguished Teacher Award, among others. In addition, he has published three works of nonfiction based on the Southern African American experience.

*Editor’s Note: Since publication, Dr. Robinson remains at Arkansas, but has been named Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs.

Auburn University – Dr. Joffery Gaymon, Vice President for Enrollment

Boasting nearly 18 years of higher education administration experience, Dr. Joffery Gaymon leads Auburn University’s campus wide enrollment initiatives, recruitment, admissions, scholarship creation, and the new student orientation experience. Before coming to the Plains, she received a Student Government Association commendation for her work at the University of West Florida. Under her leadership, Auburn has seen an increase in enrolled first time freshmen and in the average high school GPA of those enrolled students.

University of Florida – Dr. Curtis A. Reynolds, Vice President of Business Affairs

Dr. Curtis A. Reynolds has a decade of service under his belt at the University of Florida where he is currently the Vice President of Business Affairs. With more than 25 years of higher education experience in total, Dr. Reynolds is equipped to lead the strategic direction of multiple divisions across UF’s campus, including Campus Planning, Emergency Management, and the Office of Sustainability. He oversees a diversified portfolio of ten departments and sits on the senior cabinet and executive leadership team.

University of Georgia – Dr. Michelle Cook, Vice Provost for Diversity and Strategic Initiatives

For more than 15 years Dr. Michelle Cook has championed the recruitment, retention, and success of underrepresented minority students at the University of Georgia. Her leadership on an NSF-funded Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation grant has helped quadruple the number of STEM degrees conferred to those students at UGA since 2005. Her current focus is helping develop the university’s 2025 strategic plan, as well as other efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

University of Kentucky – Dr. Sonja Feist-Price, Vice President for Institutional Diversity

A former SEC Academic Leadership Development Program fellow, Dr. Sonja Feist-Price describes the work of her office at the University of Kentucky by saying, “As a community where all students matter – we have a responsibility to support them; to provide counsel when they need help; and some gentle direction when they are not sure, exactly, where to turn.” With three psychology degrees (and an additional doctorate in rehabilitation), Dr. Feist-Price is a valuable sounding board for all UK students and staff. When she’s not supporting the implementation of Kentucky’s 2020 strategic plan, she’s maintaining her status as a certified rehabilitation counselor and a licensed professional clinical counselor.

*Editor’s Note: Since publication, Dr. Feist-Price has left the University of Kentucky. Learn more about her next steps here.

Louisiana State University – Dr. Isiah M. Warner, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives

2016 SEC Professor of the Year Dr. Isiah M. Warner has earned numerous accolades and is considered one of the world’s foremost chemists, having taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in his 35-year career. Dr. Warner has matriculated more than 60 graduate students, and he notably contributes to the graduation of underrepresented populations – particularly women and minorities – in the sciences. In fact, during his tenure, LSU has become the top producer of women and African American chemistry Ph.D. graduates in the nation.

University of Mississippi – Erica McKinley, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel 

Upon graduating from the University of Mississippi School of Law, Erica McKinley’s legal prowess led her to commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense. After working for the Office of the Attorney General, two Washington, D.C. area law firms, and the National Basketball Players Association, McKinley brought her talent back to Oxford to oversee legal affairs at the University of Mississippi. In this role, she leads risk management and the Office of the General Counsel, while also providing guidance on university policy and legislation.

Mississippi State University – Ra’Sheda Forbes, Assistant Vice President of Multicultural Affairs*

Ra’Sheda Forbes, the Assistant Vice President of Multicultural Affairs at Mississippi State University, is responsible for developing strategies and programs that actively promote inclusivity at Mississippi State. A two-time MSU graduate, she uses her background to identify campus climate trends and to create proactive inclusivity in Starkville and beyond. As Director of the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center, Forbes is also an advisor and mentor for various multicultural organizations and committees.

*Editor’s Note: Since publication, Forbes remains at Mississippi State, but has been named Vice President for Access, Diversity and Inclusion.

University of Missouri – Dr. Brian Brown, Executive Associate Athletics Director*

With more than nine years of experience at the University of Missouri, Dr. Brian Brown has touched almost every corner of Mizzou athletics. A graduate assistant turned compliance coordinator; Dr. Brown parlayed his student-athlete experience into a career. Currently he leads Missouri’s integrated healthcare student-athlete service units, and he serves as the sport administrator for multiple teams. Dr. Brown earned his Master of Public Administration and doctorate from the University of Missouri – and the institution has become a family affair. His wife, Natasha, is the Associate Head Track and Field Coach; and his daughter, Elle, is a Mizzou women’s basketball student-athlete.

*Editor’s Note: Since publication, Dr. Brown remains at Mizzou, but has been named Deputy Athletics Director.

University of South Carolina – Dr. Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History and SEC Faculty Athletics Representative

Dr. Valinda Littlefield is using her passion for education, community service, and leadership development to improve campus structure, community engagement, and service-learning opportunities across multiple offices at the University of South Carolina. As the university’s Faculty Athletics Representative, Dr. Littlefield “provides oversight of the academic integrity of the athletics program and serves as an advocate for student-athlete well-being.” In addition, she has worked on several local and national committees, including a renovation committee for the National Civil Rights Museum.

University of Tennessee – Dr. Shea Kidd Houze, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students

With oversight of eight units in the Department of Student Life at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Shea Kidd Houze is leveraging more than ten years of higher education experience. Her work as Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students engages students and staff in meaningful conversations designed to cultivate “compassionate care, mattering and belonging, and leadership and service.” In addition to her administrative duties, Dr. Kidd Houze also serves as a faculty member for the Orientation Professional Institute and as a co-lead facilitator for the LeaderShape Institute.

Texas A&M University – Dr. Eli Jones, Dean of Mays Business School

As a Texas A&M University graduate, a former sales representative for three different Fortune 100 companies, and the co-author of two textbooks, Dr. Eli Jones is ushering in a new wave of business students. As Dean of the Mays Business School, he is responsible for an $83 million budget and has supported efforts to create new positions and secure funding for graduate student scholarships. Under his leadership, the business school secured $25 million from one donor – the largest single gift in its history.  Dr. Jones is also known as an outstanding lecturer, having presented worldwide in Belgium, China, France, India, Malaysia, and the U.K.

Vanderbilt University – Dr. Candice Storey Lee, Interim Vice Chancellor for Athletics*

After recently being named to Sports Business Journal‘s “Power Players: College Sports” list, Dr. Candice Storey Lee is the first woman and first African American woman to lead an SEC athletics department. As Vanderbilt University’s Interim Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Interim Athletics Director, she oversees the day-to-day operations of the department. A three-time Vanderbilt graduate and former women’s basketball student-athlete, Dr. Lee served as captain won four letters as a Commodore.

*Editor’s Note: Since publication, Dr. Storey Lee remains at Vanderbilt, but has been named Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director.

As we reach the midway point of the observance of Black History Month, we’re honored to highlight a few SEC administrators making a mark. We look to the future with optimism that their impact and influence will extend beyond February 29th.