After the pomp and circumstance that greeted the official announcement of Dr. Paulette R. Dillard taking the helm at Shaw University, she settled into her office to continue to put in motion her primary objectives for the historically black college.
“The major objective that we have here at Shaw is to make sure that we create the relevance for Shaw that, in what we do, answers that question that keeps surfacing and that causes every HBCU president to bristle – and that is, ‘Are we still relevant,’” Dillard told NNPA Newswire.
On May 2, Dillard formally received investiture as the liberal arts school’s 18th president.
She received the ceremonial mace, the custom President’s Medallion, and presidential regalia after a “Women Who Lead” Awards Luncheon in Shaw’s historic Estey Hall.
The luncheon honored Dillard, North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, and McDonald’s owner/operator Deborah Holder.
The celebration culminated with a performance by Dillard’s friend, Grammy Award-winner, Peabo Bryson.
“We want to adapt the university so that it’s clear what its relevance continues to be,” Dillard said. That means that, given the challenges of higher education — and HBCUs in particular — we have to make sure that the education we’re providing transforms the lives of the students that we have,” she said.
“The curriculum most be more robust and we have to find a way to fund education that’s so critical for these young people so that the two primary objectives we have right now are to identify sources of funding that guarantee every child that wants a college education can have one, and do so without incurring a mountain of debt.”
A Mount Airy, North Carolina native, Dillard graduated from Barber-Scotia College in Concord, North Carolina. She holds a Masters of Business Administration from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and a Masters of Science in Biology from Tennessee State University.
Dillard earned her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Clark Atlanta University.
Dillard has held senior leadership positions at GlaxoSmithKline, Quest Diagnostics and Clark Atlanta University’s Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development.
“Neither of my parents were college graduates, so I’m the first college graduate in my immediate family although my sister became a great educator,” Dillard said.
“But that wasn’t my path. It was really science… I wanted to be a researcher and I wanted to work in labs so that’s what I majored in and that’s what I did for 25 years,” she said.
However, as she excelled in Science, Dillard said she found herself consistently being promoted into administrative roles and, in her personal life, she had been a Sunday school teacher and a youth director.
“I did that and after 25 years it was time to give back,” Dillard said. “I decided that I wanted to teach and I had a desire to use myself as a role model for young people to show that you could attend an HBCU like many others and you can go on to have a career of your dreams,” she said.
Joseph N. Bell, Jr., the chairman of Shaw’s board of trustees said the board believes Shaw’s performance to date, including her term as interim president, “has demonstrated that she is committed to the transformative education process and more than qualified to lead Shaw University into this next era of excellence.”
Dillard said she’s thankful and committed to intentional leadership of Shaw University as “we continue to grow as an institutional leader in the Raleigh community and globally abroad.”
“Shaw University is the place that, when you step on this campus, you are a known entity and we have this belief that every individual who comes here, we have a commitment to make sure that we address your needs as a student – meaning the whole person not just your academic journey.”
“We want you to be the individual that you are and we’re not trying to make you a cookie-cutter college student with just the experience of college, but we want to help you find your passion and your voice. We want you to become the product that HBCUs set out to create in every person that comes in.”