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VOL. 133 | NO. 156 | Wednesday, August 8, 2018

LeMoyne-Owen Adds Talent To Be More Competitive

Special to The Daily News

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As a child, Adriane Johnson-Williams remembers plucking honeysuckles off the fence as she passed Elmwood Cemetery, cutting through apartment buildings and meeting friends on the way to summer camp at LeMoyne-Owen College.

Fast forward a few years, she finds herself standing on the same neighborhood block, but this time, as the latest administrator joining the college.

“This is a neighborhood where children can live and grow and thrive,” Johnson-Williams said. “I’m investing in it, the same way as the people did in me.”

Over the past year, Johnson-Williams reconnected with the college through her role as a program officer for Pyramid Peak Foundation, a private grant-making foundation where she led philanthropic efforts to address poverty and youth development.

LeMoyne-Owen president Andrea Lewis Miller found a core member of her administrative support network in Johnson-Williams, a career education and social policy professional.

When Miller suggested creating a new position tailored to Johnson-Williams’ expertise — special assistant to the president for strategy and planning — Johnson-Williams jumped at the chance.

The newly created position enhances Destination 2023, a strategic plan announced in 2016 to address declining enrollment.

Fall enrollment dipped below 1,000 students for the first time in 2015, down from the highest fall enrollment of nearly 1,500 students in 1994.

Since 2015, the average enrollment for LeMoyne-Owen is about 900 students. When fall classes resume later this month, the college projects an enrollment of 896.

As a small, private college, LeMoyne-Owen depends on enrollment for at least 70 percent of its operating budget. In recent years, the college has not done a good job telling people what it is, why it exists and what it has to offer, Miller said.

“When you don’t have that enrollment growth it prohibits you as an institution,” Miller said. “You have to keep up and compete and we were unable to do that as a well-kept secret. We don’t intend to be one anymore. We need students to consider us as an extremely viable option.”

Johnson-Williams spent a career researching, planning and implementing academic policy — something sorely missing at LeMoyne-Owen, Miller said.

“In our quest to transform the institution and take the college through a renaissance, it became clear that we need someone with her skills,” Miller said.

Johnson-Williams will ensure growth strategies – based on analytics – are clearly articulated to internal and external stakeholders.

Johnson-Williams plans to leverage her contacts from Pyramid Peak, while reaching out to new supporters.

In a role focused on strategy and planning, Johnson-Williams is tasked with five priorities: faculty and academics, enrollment and retention, graduation, post-graduation placement and endowment.

“When it comes to this kind of work, the first step is looking at the data and trends across the entire institution,” Johnson-Williams said. “The priority will emerge from what the data tells us and where we have the resources to act. We have to determine not only what to do and how to do it, but also how to pay for it.”

Despite the college’s recent enrollment challenges, Miller is convinced a plan developed with the right strategies, resources and buy-in, LeMoyne-Owen can become anything it decides.

While attending college in Massachusetts in the early-1990s, she swore to never return to her hometown. Only a crisis and a calling changed her mind and brought her back to the city.

It was 2012, and the saga of merging Memphis City Schools with the surrounding Shelby County School System was making national headlines.

“There was something really disturbing in what I was reading about the merger. I was constantly questioning if this was 1973,” Johnson-Williams said, referencing the year Memphis integrated its schools through court-ordered busing. “It was really ugly and hard to see from where I was.”

Sitting at her kitchen table in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she was a professor at West Virginia University, Johnson-Williams decided it was time to come home.

She didn’t have a job. She didn’t know anyone, other than relatives. She sent a few LinkedIn messages and two people responded — Tomeka Hart, a countywide school board member who was running for Congress; and Chris Peck, then-editor of The Commercial Appeal.

Each introduced her to someone new, which led to a job at Rhodes College and then as one of the first employees at academic nonprofit Seeding Success.

As for the ongoing issues after the merger and then de-merger of public schools locally, Johnson-Williams sees hope.

“There’s a great energy on college campuses and if the environment is right, there’s an opportunity to think about complex problems and how to address them; and it’s possible to bring together people from different sectors to that thinking,” Johnson-Williams said.

Johnson-Williams came back to Memphis with something to offer her hometown, but she was only able to accomplish what she did because she got her start in life in the Soulsville community.

“I knew when I came home I wanted to do something valuable and every step along the way I feel good about what I have contributed, but the idea of spending the next phase of my career on the same block of Walker Avenue where I got my start is so fulfilling,” Johnson-Williams said.

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