Spelman President Mary S. Campbell on HBCUs, the future of learning, and advice to leaders

This week, Guild announced an exciting new partnership with Spelman College, the renowned historical Black college that is widely recognized as a global leader in the education of women of African descent.

The partnership will bring Spelman’s new eSpelman online certificates to Guild’s learning marketplace, where they will be available to all genders for Guild’s employer partners.

That’s not the only connection between the two organizations, though. In June, Guild announced that Spelman’s President, Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, joined Guild’s Advisory Board where she will help drive insights into the future of learning and the future of work.

Dr. Campbell joined Guild’s team for a Q&A, which is excerpted and edited for clarity below. She shared her observations on the future of education, leading an HBCU, her career before education, and more in a conversation with Guild’s Senior Vice President Geoff Watson.

Why did you join Guild’s advisory board?

I decided to join the Advisory Board of Guild because it gave me a similar feeling when I decided to take the position at Spelman — I saw and heard a community that really understood its mission.

One thing I am hearing in the city of Atlanta, Georgia is this notion that it’s getting harder and harder to fulfill the demand for workers. Adults are looking for more and they’ve had an unusual year where they’ve had more time to think about their lives and futures.

The idea that Guild can step in at this moment to articulate and shape some of those aspirations and provide the solutions for the skills that will be useful in five to 10 years is something that I am enthusiastic to be a part of.

What are your reflections about leading an HBCU?

I am very proud of the financial stability we have established over the years.

Financial stability and business are important, but I also see myself as being the spiritual head and healer of the college. Being a leader of an HBCU I have learned that I must be understanding and comforting to my faculty and students. It’s essential to know when to be the business head and the healer and when to change those roles. Throughout my career, I had the opportunity to be a leader and have had incredible opportunities. A few pieces of advice I give to young leaders with aspirations are:

  • You have to be a lifelong learner. You should always put yourself in the position of learning. Learning new skills, learning them deliberately, and keeping things current, reminds us how to learn.
  • You have to do the job that’s right in front of you. You need to master something and then take it and find other uses for it.

Spelman is an institution with a rich history.  Can you tell us a bit about the founding of Spelman and its mission?

It was a momentous time in the history of this country. The Civil War had ended in 1865 and there were millions of African Americans who were emancipated.

In terms of women in particular, there was really no distinct place for them to go for an education. Spelman was founded 140 years ago precisely to educate Black women and to educate them at the highest level. In the beginning, it started with just about ten women in a church basement, and now this past year we have received 11,500 college applications, and have partnered with Morehouse and Clark Atlanta University accepting men and women.

The magic of Spelman is in its mission. The mission of the college is to provide an excellent education to prepare our women to become global leaders. We look at every facet of the college from the classroom, teachers, curriculum, and pathways. We are always very intentional about how our students move from one point to another. We are also very intentional about helping them create community among themselves. There is a set of interrelationships among themselves so they understand their peer support is just as important as the support from their faculty and advisors. When students graduate they have a network of connections that last a lifetime.

How has Spelman College evolved over time to be a good partner for Guild Education?

Spelman is one of the leading institutions for social mobility in this country.

About four or five years ago we began to think about finding a way to take what we do on campus to a broader and larger adult audience beyond the gates of Spelman, and the way to do that was online.

The pandemic was an unexpected learning opportunity for institutions. We have grown our online presence and have innovated and refocused on the idea of upskilling, stackable credentials, and developing new skills. I saw that Guild was a natural partner and they will be able to customize our learning solutions and support us to create our newer brand, eSpelman.

What is your hope for students and the future of higher education?

I want to make college more accessible and affordable for students. There are financial barriers that continue to make it difficult for students to achieve a higher education. Working with Guild will help challenge those barriers and unlock opportunities for the future of work.

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