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Meet an Alumnus: Courtney Williams

Posted by on Friday, January 19, 2018 in Alumni, .

M.Ed. 2011

Dillard University, Director of Student Engagement and Leadership


I rely a lot on my training with CDA, helping students to see the college as the community that they should develop.”

Q: To begin, can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where you are from originally and how did you end up at Vanderbilt?

I am from Memphis, TN and I went to Vanderbilt as an undergraduate. I did a double major in Medicine, Health, & Society (MHS) and French. Through MHS, I was able to look at the social implications of health, which got me interested in working with and organizing different communities. I met Sharon Shields, who became my mentor, and she introduced me to the HOD department. I took her course Health Services Delivery to Diverse Populations and it kind of changed my path. I also began to get pretty involved in student leadership on campus, which is what also led me to CDA; I wanted to be able to develop communities on a college campus.

Q: What kind of things were you involved in during your time in CDA?

While in the CDA program, I took the courses for CDA as well as a couple of Higher Ed courses. My capstone project was working with the Susan Gray School, where I took 10-15 4-year olds and paired them with mentor students from The Commons. Seeing how that experience affected the students’ retention in school and their relationships to the university and community solidified to me that I wanted to go into higher education.

Another of my practicum experiences was working with Tennessee State University in their Office of Service Learning and Civic Engagement. That internship taught me a lot about working at an HBCU [Historically Black College or University], which was really helpful for what I am doing now. I also worked as an intern for the Human Rights Coalition, which was really cool to see how important it was that we promote diversity, inclusion, and equity across the city.

Q: What did you do after graduation? 

Once I graduated, I went into my first professional role at Loyola University in New Orleans. I worked as an area director in one of their upper-classmen communities. After that, I transferred to an office called Co-Curricular Programs, which included leadership programs, orientation, student government, the diversity and inclusion programs, and things like that. I stayed in that office for over 5 years before coming to Dillard University, where I am now.

At Dillard, I am the Director of Student Engagement and Leadership. We oversee student organizations, leadership programs, student government, new student orientation, and basically any co-curricular elements of student life.

Q: What are some of your favorite things about that job? 

I love the students. And I love connecting them and helping them to build a community. I feel that I rely a lot on my training with CDA, using elements of community organizing and helping students to see the college as the community that they should develop. I also love collaborating with people across the campus, which I feel that my CDA training helped quite a bit with.

Q: Were there any other ways you felt like the CDA program prepared you for what you’re doing now?

Oh my gosh, everything! I feel like my training was so versatile. In CDA, we all go in different directions and there’s no one thing that you have to do, which is something that I love to share with my students. It has also really empowered me to look at the student as a whole person. There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not reflecting on my experience in CDA, telling a student about it, or using my own examples of an undergrad and grad student who didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I was able to explore so many opportunities and learn so much that has really helped me land on my career in higher education.

Q: I saw that you are also working on a doctoral degree. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Yeah. I’m working on my Ed.D in Organizational Change & Leadership at the University of Southern California. I love that I was able to combine my passions of community development, higher education, and diversity and inclusion. Honestly, the program reminded me a lot of CDA. It’s about organization change, leadership, diversity and inclusion, which I felt were tenants of the CDA program as well.

I’m still in the early phases of finalizing my dissertation topic, but I really want to look at the factors which affect the retention of employees of color in student affairs. Research shows that a between 30-50% of those individuals will depart from the field within 5 years. I want to get to the bottom of why this is happening and try to figure out an intervention to retain more of these people.

Q: Do you have any advice for current or future CDA students?

 I would say to always pursue your passions and always be hopeful. There are different ways to make connections and different ways to live your dreams. Do your own thing, do what feels right, and just be great.

 I’m also extremely happy to speak with any student who is thinking about going into higher education or student affairs or who just wants to talk about their CDA experience. Feel free to let folks know that I’m only a call or email away—I’m happy to foster those relationships.


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