Faculty Focus: Dr. Twyla Williams-Damond
DR. TWYLA WILLIAMS-DAMOND
College of Doctoral Studies
“Push yourself: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” — Neale Donald Walsch
Title: Doctoral faculty, residency faculty, dissertation chair, Institutional Review Board faculty lead
Years at GCU: 5+ years
- Doctorate of Educational Foundations & Leadership/Higher Education Law, University of Louisiana at Lafayette & Southeastern Louisiana University
- Master of Business Administration, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
- Master of Health Care Administration, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
- Bachelor of Applied & Behavioral Sciences, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
What is your most notable accomplishment in your field, and why was it important?
From the K-12 viewpoint and upon review of the academic disparities experienced by underserved populations in southern Louisiana, I was able to utilize my research expertise to compile data outlining the compelling statistical gaps in academics related to these students. Before the publication of these findings, the educational gaps were not taken seriously and the cries for change were not given much merit. However, the undeniable statistical discovery expressed in my research led to the development of the Williams Scholar Charter Management Organization, which prides its foundation in restorative justice principles rather than punitive ones and which has its mission and vision founded upon cultural awareness and respect for diversity and inclusion. The changes sparked by this academic endeavor is especially important to me because it strategically benefits underserved students, who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks, and grants them the opportunity to matriculate more seamlessly into college.
From the higher education viewpoint, my most notable accomplishment is the graduation of my doctoral learners. Each time one of them graduates as a doctor, I get to graduate repeatedly and vicariously through them.
From a GCU professional viewpoint, my most notable accomplishment is being the recipient of the 2020 Leadership in Research and Scholarly Activity Award in Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies. The coveted award is presented annually to one deserving GCU faculty member for outstanding leadership, innovation and service in the promotion of research and scholarly activity. Being nominated and chosen for this honor granted me further confidence that my work is both valuable and noteworthy.
What are you most passionate about in your field and why?
In my field, my passion is twofold.
One, I am passionate about collaborating with my highly respected colleagues and developing supports that will assist them with increasing student academic outcomes. In addition, having a voice concerning university initiatives gives me the opportunity to utilize both my business and academic backgrounds collaboratively. I call it an “Academic Business Plan,” which is a business plan with academic underpinnings.
Two, I am passionate about students — at all levels of education. In my opinion, there is nothing more satisfying than being instrumental in provoking changes that are student-centered. You often will hear me say, “At the end of every decision that we make in education, there is a student that will potentially influence the world. Our decisions go far beyond the classroom.”
What is a memorable moment you had in class, and what does that reveal about your teaching style?
In many cases, doctoral learners embark upon the dissertation journey with the idea that doctoral study is simply an extension of their previous education. Nothing could be further from the truth. This provides me with the opportunity to share the perspective that the dissertation journey is one that has its foundation in “creating new knowledge,” which is unique in comparison to any other learning process they have encountered to this point. Watching that shift in focus and witnessing the growth of the doctoral learner into a true researcher is addictive.
What motivations guide what you do?
Besides my spiritual guidance, my motivation comes from my parents, my husband and my children. As a first-generation family member with a doctorate, my original line of encouragement was received during my upbringing from parents who always enforced the importance of education. Although my father is an extremely successful entrepreneur, he was not afforded the opportunity to formally attend college. Therefore, higher education was considered a priceless commodity in our household. My mother, a lifelong educator in English and African-American history, taught me the art of meaningful debate and insisted on perfection when communicating with others. This combination of my parents’ influence persuaded me to eventually pursue a doctorate.
Daily, my husband and my children are my biggest motivation and support system. In an effort to conduct myself in a manner that is both honorable and productive, I am always mindful of wanting to make them proud. For this reason, I embark on every day with the intention of making my environment better than it was the day before.
What are other endeavors that support what you do?
At GCU, besides serving as a dissertation chair, I also serve as a doctoral residency professor, online doctoral instructor and most recently as the Institutional Review Board (IRB) faculty lead in the College of Doctoral Studies. All of these job responsibilities provide a platform for me to grow professionally and also enhance my expertise surrounding doctoral faculty and doctoral learners.
In addition, I spend quite a bit of time growing my personal business, Premier Educational Research & Consulting, as the Chief Executive Officer. The mission of this company is to provide professional educational advice for academic entities in order to create value for their constituents; deliver consultancies that enable entities to enter new markets, increase positive outcomes by evaluating specific departments and improve operational performance; and offer specialized knowledge pertaining to education, especially higher education. This firm was founded by chance and was not intentional. However, the outcomes have been beneficial for presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans and directors from multiple universities and colleges across the U.S.
As I am a researcher at heart, I keep my research skills sharpened by having a research agenda that centers on the:
- Injustices experienced by students from impoverished backgrounds (minority and low socioeconomic)
- Inequities surrounding the accessibility of quality education
- Current K-12 issues
- Current issues in higher education
- Higher education legal topics
What are your plans to advance or grow the college of Doctoral Studies?
I plan to continue to build solid relationships with administration, faculty and staff in order to solidify myself as a knowledgeable resource. My personal demeanor is that of respect and openness to ideas and perspectives. This quality puts me in a unique position to navigate positive suggestions, potential concerns or needed changes in a manner that suits outcomes made in the best interest of the whole.
My other plans include contributing to the IRB by continuing to develop supports and trainings and being instrumental in improving processes between the IRB and the SDA leads, dissertation chairs and students.
In addition, I have a desire to be a contributing voice in furthering education on cultural sensitivity as well as diversity and inclusion topics that are so prevalent in today’s society. This subject matter effects all of our students and warrants reflective thought and development of a vision. Addressing these current issues in an effort to support our students and faculty is key.
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?
Most people do not know that I have eight children, that I love to ride motorcycles or that I routinely practice at the shooting range.