Educational Leadership and Higher Education

  • Tracy Stokes

    “With each new skill I learn, I am glad I chose this program”

    Tracy Stokes

Tracy Stokes

ProgramTracy Stokes

Higher Education Administration Doctoral Program

Employment

Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Gateway Community and Technical College

Tracy’s Journey in Life - Nevertheless, She Persisted

My journey in life has never been what I thought it was going to be. The blueprint for my life was clear: graduate from high school, go to college and graduate in four years, and attend graduate school. After my education was complete, I was then (and only then) to think about getting married and having a couple of children. In that order. PERIOD. 

But of course, my journey didn’t go exactly as planned.

In the middle of my junior year, I found out that I was expecting my first child. Finding out that I was going to be a mother put a lot of pressure on me to finish my education, and since I was already struggling (my GPA was not pretty), I had to think about what I was going to do. I knew that I had disappointed many folks in my life, and that weighed heavily on me. Worse, I felt like an outcast. As I walked on campus, I was embarrassed because my belly was round and big; my grades were suffering. I was another young, pregnant, Black woman.

But I persisted.

Before giving birth to my daughter, I was VERY active on my college campus, and was the poster child for the “perfect college student.”  I even represented the college in a commercial (my claim to fame was three words: tell me more- I am still teased about this today). I was a DJ on the school radio station, a mentor for new Black students on campus, and the Presidential Ambassador Club chair. It wasn’t becoming a young mother that hurt. Instead, it was hearing an elder Black administrator on campus suggest that I should step down from my campus positions because I no longer fit the image of a “proper” college student.

THIS WAS MORTIFYING…..but, I persisted.

After that conversation, I didn’t go back to school for nearly two years. I was embarrassed and didn’t think I could ever recover from my detoured educational and life journey. More than this, I was disappointed that I did not receive the support I needed from an administrator that I looked up to. This experience is cemented into my brain and part of my being as a higher education administrator myself. Nevertheless, I eventually gained the courage to re-enroll at the same college to finish my degree. I persisted because of the circle of mentors who surrounded me and provided resources and encouragement.  By the time I graduated in June 2001, I was the mother of a 4-year-old and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. A few years later, I earned a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, with TWO more children in tow.

Yep, she did that!

Though a far cry from my initial plans, I feel accomplished. I am a two-time college graduate.  I know that my children look to me as the strength to push through any situation. My children are my legacy, and despite the times I thought I wouldn’t make it, I found a network of folks who stretched and pushed me to continue. Now, I am a first-year doctoral student with a 23-year-old, a 17-year-old, and a 16-year-old. After being out of school for 16 years, I am relearning how to “do school.” My experience this time around has a different feel. I am pursuing my doctorate, not because I feel as though I have something to prove. I am doing it because it is a manifestation of all that I have learned over the past 20 years. I am doing this for me. And for every young Black girl who needs an administrator to look up to. For those who need possibility models of triumph and success that include detours and changes. 

Sometimes I cannot believe that I am a graduate assistant and get to study under Dr. Brittany Williams, who is one of THEE dopest Black women I have met in a while. In our short time working together, she has taught me so much about research as a Black woman in Higher Education and how to ethically research for Black women in higher education. I am so grateful that I get to learn from her. Each day, I am reminded that each step along the way towards my doctoral degree completion is a milestone for those looking for a way to make this journey work.

For that reason, I offer all of you a few words of encouragement to ponder as you think about whether a doctoral (or graduate school generally) journey is for you:

  1. You have to begin. In order to determine whether or not something is for you, you have to have a starting point. Take a deep breath, gather your network, and BEGIN. Go ahead and complete that application to enroll-- even better? Consider enrolling here with me in the SCSU HEID program! :-)
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is a difficult one, believe me, I know. I am 44 years old, and every week I learn a new skill. Remember to utilize your advisors, department chairs, and professors- the staff in the HEID program are AMAZING! Be sure to ask the questions you need to make sure you will be supported along the way. Completing a terminal degree is hard already, make it easier by choosing a program and faculty who will choose you back.
  3. Create your legacy. I have a mantra that I repeat almost daily, “your story has the power to break barriers, and inspire others to hope.” I remember that mantra each day that I think I can’t finish a paper or a class. You can do the same. I can say that my cohort in the HEID program has been a lifesaver. It is comforting to know that, if I need it, I have a group of people who know what I am going through and will be there to cheer me on. This is what tells me I chose the right program.

Choosing a graduate school is incredibly personal. And with each new skill I learn, I am glad I chose this one. Are you interested in the SCSU higher education program(s)? Feel free to contact me if you want to talk more: tracy.stokes@go.stcloudstate.edu

Go Huskies!
Tracy N. Stokes