Welcome Cassandra Herring, dean-in-residence!

Do you know who Mary Branch was?

Until a few months ago, I had no idea myself. But a walk back from a Deans for Impact team happy hour took me and my colleagues past Huston-Tillotson University, a historically black college and university in Austin. The newest member of our organization told us that she’d written her PhD thesis on one Mary Branch – former president of Huston-Tillotson and the first black female university president in the U.S.

Huston-Tillotson is all of one block away from the Deans for Impact offices. Yet until that moment, I’d probably walked or driven past it hundreds of times without knowing this particular contribution that Mary Branch had made to American history.

As it turns out, Mary Branch was an extraordinary leader. I’ll admit, however, to being just as inspired by the colleague who shared President Branch’s history with us that day. Her name is Dr. Cassandra Herring, and after serving as dean of the college of education at Hampton University (also an HBCU) for the past nine years, she has joined Deans for Impact as its dean-in-residence.

Since I met her 18 months ago, Dr. Herring has taught me so much. More than anything, she has helped me understand the value of inclusion. That moment on our post-happy hour walk was just one of so many examples where she’s shared with our team her insights into the history and culture of HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

So just what work is Dr. Herring leading as dean-in-residence at Deans for Impact? She is driving an effort to support HBCU colleges of education, and other colleges of education at minority-serving institutions, to prepare effective educators through data-informed improvement. To that end, this week she is convening a large group of leaders from these institutions to identify their needs and further develop an action plan to support them.

In the weeks ahead, Dr. Herring will share more about her project, in her own words. But at a time when our country has felt polarized along racial lines in ways that I — perhaps naively — no longer thought possible, the opportunity to support her work is nurturing my soul. Because I know this ugly moment in our politics will pass, but our work together will endure.

Benjamin Riley

Founder and Executive Director

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