Dr. Carleitta Paige-Anderson (Richmond, VA)
Career:Vice President of Student Development/Dean University College
1- How did you become a professional in your current field?
My career in higher education started as a Faculty member in the Department of Natural Sciences at Virginia Union University (my alma mater). Initially, I wanted to be a pediatrician; because I was not aware of the breadth of opportunities that one could have in the science field.
During my college experiences, I experienced basic science research, and I was overwhelmed with the idea that I could study some of life’s most complex problems. Following college, I attended graduate school and obtained a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Wake Forest University. Then, I completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. My scientific research involved studying essential biochemical pathways in bacterial organisms that contribute to infectious diseases, Bacillus anthracis – which causes anthrax disease, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis – which causes Tuberculosis disease.
Ultimately, my research experience landed me a position at my alma mater. The job was for me to establish a research program to assist in the development of more future sciences, as well as ensure a quality academic foundation for students majoring in the sciences (biology, chemistry, etc.)
2- What is a quality that makes you successful in your career?
Success as a college professor, administrator, and infectious disease scientist requires one to be very reflective. In an ever-changing industry, the extent to which one can critically reflect and consider the implications of their decisions, and the decisions of others is essential. Reflection facilitates one’s ability to take in information and make informed decisions or take informed action. Working in higher education is a people-oriented business – where the goal is the success of people who are attempting to increase their personal and professional potential.
I believe that intentional reflection ensures that we do are successful and that we do not move with a one-size-fits-all strategy.
3-What 3 tips would you give someone struggling to reach their goals?
1. Listen and learn – We are all life-long learners because information changes, and so do we. Being open and available to receive more information is critical to growth.
2. Have Fun – The pursuit and fulfillment of a goal should be enjoyable, but not without challenge. Along the journey, one should genuinely smile and be nourished by your experience because that’s the fuel to keep you moving forward.
3. Protect Yourself – We have to be kind to ourselves during our life’s pursuits. If we all know today, what we didn’t know yesterday, we would all make different decisions or at least consider a broader perspective. It is for this reason that we have to speak life into ourselves and put our personal needs first.
4-Name the top 3 goals you achieved?
1. Fulbright Senior Scholar (Surabaya, Indonesia)
2. Secured over $1 million in research grants
3. Peace (mentally)
5-What inspired you to reach your goals?
I have always been inquisitive and excited to learn. That underlying passion keeps me wanting to learn and grow, which fuels my inspiration.
One of my inspirations to return to VUU and to continue my service in a leadership capacity is rooted in learning my family’s history. Briefly, when I attended VUU as an undergraduate student, it was by happenstance, my mom and I were in Richmond visiting other universities, and on our return home, we got lost trying to find 95 North (this should not be surprising for anyone that knows my mother).
We stumbled upon N. Lombardy street and learned that it was high school day. On-site, I was offered a full academic scholarship, and that cemented my decision to attend VUU. Fast forward nearly ten years; I was seeking to confirm where I would work after my post-doctoral fellowship. I was offered jobs to work in the industry, government, and academic settings – one of which was VUU. While the newly minted VUU President was touring the national alumni associations, I decided to attend the Baltimore event. It was an intimate setting, and I left pleased at the direction of my alma mater – but I had not considered working there.
While deliberating other job offers, I learned the author of “The Struggle Is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation” Mr. Joseph Fitzgerald wanted to meet with Ms. Richardson’s extended family. Ms. Gloria Richardson is a civil rights icon, and in his book Fitzgerald chronicled the life of her family, the Hayes family of South Hill, Virginia. It turns out that Ms. Richardson’s father and aunt attended Virginia Union University. Her aunt happens to be my great, great, grandmother Selena Hayes. At this moment, I learned that I had family ties to a place, an institution that had such a significant impact on my life. I was not only inspired to return to VUU, but I also committed myself to herstory (VUU’s story) and legacy.
6- How did you overcome obstacles to reaching your goals?
As a reflection on this question, I think it is necessary that first, we acknowledge that goals can change. Many establish goals very early in their lives, and they remain laser-focused in that regard. It is important to note that for those who are steadfast in pursuing their childhood dreams, this is admirable and should be celebrated.
To this end, my personal and professional experience informs me that goals change, and the skills to navigate change in personal development are critical. This context is crucial because I struggled with reaching my goals because my goals changed. Initially, I wanted to be a pediatrician; then, I wanted to work in the government as a research scientist. Next, I wanted to be a principal investigator in a research-intensive institution. Subsequently, I realized that teaching was essential to me.
After fulfilling all of the “prerequisites” to ensure my competitiveness to be a top researcher – I decided that I wanted to serve as a college administrator. Along my journey, I was challenged people offering what they thought was best for me, often challenging the evolution of my professional growth. You are too young they would say, or you are too good to do that they would offer, do you realize how much you are limiting yourself if you do they would surmise.
Ultimately, I realized that my gifts were mine, and if I was going to be happy with what life had to offer me that it was prudent for me to stand in my truth! I had to grow and find confidence in believing that I could truly do anything that I wanted to, and where ever and however, I wanted to do so. I listened to myself and accepted that the ideal journey for someone with my talents and credentials would likely make different professional decisions. Then, I realized that I have been “different” all my life. Standing in my truth meant, as a young black woman from the nation’s capital, raised during the time with the highest crime rates, in a family working to fully understand the true meaning of life, my ability to make decisions counter to the environmental norms have been honed from the beginning.
7-How do you keep your inspiration from decreasing?
Working with and for college-aged students affords me the daily inspiration that I need. Specifically, it is a pleasure to watch students identify and position themselves to pursue their academic and professional goals. It brings me joy to welcome freshmen students into our VUU family who is eager to better themselves. Then, to observe how they respond to the emotional whims that are invariably apart of their development reminds of how and why I am positioned to be of service to them. From orientation (the initial on-boarding of students) to graduation (the culminating academic exercise), I have a daily responsibility to support all university stakeholders in advancing student success.
Lastly, doing this vital work at my alma mater is personal, and I offer all of myself to ensure that the institution remains a leader in impacting the lives of our students and the broader campus community, and with so much at stake, my inspiration continues to carry me forward.