Contributing writer: Kerry Duff | CityBusiness
Dr. Toya Barnes-Teamer, vice president of student success for Dillard University, loves working with college students. She's passionate about helping them reach their higher education goals, graduating from college and having a successful career.
"I work with students every day and I love it," she said. "They can't withdraw from the university without speaking to me first. We discuss their issues, remove the barriers, and then turn things around so they can complete their education."
A student recently came to see her after discovering she wasn't eligible for a Pell grant. The student was a senior with a 3.8 grade point average, and losing the grant made her $1,000 short on tuition.
"She came in and told me she couldn't stay enrolled because she was losing part of her financial package, so I told her we have money available that the president raised through donations that she could use to finish her degree," she said. "The young woman had no idea we had money available. She qualified for the $1,000 and is finishing her degree in May. Other students on campus referred her to me. Word gets around when you help people be successful."
Barnes-Teamer has been at the college for nine years and is responsible for retention and graduation rates. She also handles enrollment management, student support services and student affairs, which includes student leadership development and activities, residential life and campus police.
Dillard University has 1,200 students. Fifty percent live on campus and the other half are commuters. The vice president knows 80 percent of them, she said, from seeing them at events and around campus.
Barnes-Teamer is a first generation college student. She earned her undergraduate and master's degrees at Loyola University. Earning those degrees and a Ph.D. while raising three small children is her greatest accomplishment, she said.
"Finding myself in a vice president's position is also a big triumph," she added. "It wasn't my goal. I just wanted to serve students. Nevertheless, I realized that if I wanted to make a difference for college students, I needed to be at the table and be able to make changes."
She also has a major influence on the policies and procedures that impact student success at the school.
"It's an empowering feeling that not only am I at the table, but I can justify what I'm recommending. My colleagues support me and I can provide information that will allow us to move things in a direction to enhance student experiences," she said.
On a personal level, the vice president is proud of being able to balance her work and family life. All three of her children live on campus at different colleges and the first one will graduate in May.
"That says I've done something right," she said with a chuckle. "All my kids are independent thinkers and have their own goals and objectives and that's a great accomplishment, too. I've also kept them grounded spiritually. We all go to church on Sundays, and if I'm out of town I find a place of worship. We keep God at the core of what we do. I laugh about my son, though. He tries to skirt around church, but it's the only way he's going to get a hot breakfast on Sunday before he heads back to school at Tulane."
Barnes-Teamer was chosen as an honoree for Women of the Year in 2014. She has been reflecting on her contributions to the university and community since then, as well as mentoring young women from Dillard and other institutions across the state. She meets with seven women every other month who are interested in being a vice president, she said.
"All these women reached out to me because they want to know the path I took to get where I am and any other advice I have to offer," she said. "They all aspire to be at this level and all of this happened after I was part of Women of the Year. It's great a great feeling to be recognized for the impact you have on the community in a chosen area."
One topic she spends a lot of time on time with these women, she said, is being able to balance a family and successful career.
"As women, we still have challenges to be successful because we have to balance our careers and family life," she said. "Many women feel it has to be a choice, but you can have both. For me it was about open dialogue and communication with my husband and sharing common goals and objectives. We sat down together and decided what was best for our family. You can't negotiate if you're not communicating."
She also advises young businesswomen to be true to themselves, focus on what they want in life and not what someone wants for them, be pleased with the person they see in the mirror and not give up on what they value for any job or a partner.