Ronyelle Ricard, a 2006 Penn State graduate with a doctorate in higher education, is especially fond of Nelson Mandela’s memorable quotation about education. In fact it has inspired her so much, you could argue that she has come to embody it.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” the South African leader once said.
From her days as a graduate student at Penn State, Ricard has drawn on those words for inspiration and guidance.
“I have always been passionate about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and Penn State gave me the support and allowed me the opportunity to explore these institutions in an empirical and systematic manner,” she said.
While Ricard was completing her dissertation, she worked as a graduate intern at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. After she graduated, she was offered full-time employment as a research associate. A year later she was hired by the president of Howard University to serve as the coordinator for the university-wide Reaffirmation of Accreditation Initiative.
“This was an absolute dream come true because throughout my graduate studies, I maintained a concentrated research focus on the role of HBCUs in higher education,” she said. “Upon completion of that project with the unqualified reaffirmation of the nation’s largest and most complex HBCU in 2009, I was reassigned as coordinator for the Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal (PCAR).”
PCAR was the structured process in which faculty, students, staff and external scholars engaged in a thorough evaluation of the university’s undergraduate, graduate and professional academic programs and made recommendations to the president for strategic adjustments — investment, realignment and attrition.
Ricard remained at Howard until the PCAR initiative was completed. Then, in 2012, she and her family were able to relocate back home to Louisiana where she currently serves as special assistant to the chancellor of Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge. She said she plans to continue on the same path.
“I hope to build upon the research that I have done on HBCUs and address issues related to improving the production of high quality college graduates and in service to society. I am also interested in the internationalization of HBCU campuses. Ideally, my goal is to continue to highlight the significance of these institutions in my role as a university administrator,” she said.
“The academic rigor of my training equipped me with the tools to work in a number of areas in higher education -- university and professional association settings. My degree gave me a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of how colleges and universities work. Penn State’s Center for the Study of Higher Education has an impeccable reputation, and earning my degree from such a prestigious institutional unit has afforded me many opportunities and given me great credibility.”
Ricard, who was awarded the Bunton-Waller Fellowship and the Miriam E. Gray Scholarship while at Penn State, said she was inspired by her professors while she pursued her doctorate. She even wrote a book -- “Ebony towers in higher education: The evolution, mission, and presidency of historically black colleges and universities” -- with one, Penn State alumnus and former faculty member M. Christopher Brown II.
“HBCUs are often not invited to the discussion table when important decisions are being made concerning the future of educational access in this country, ” she said.
“These institutions have great value and serve a specific purpose, and I believe they are a critical piece to the larger higher education puzzle. I am a strong advocate for these colleges (as well as other minority serving institutions), and I will continue to highlight their mission and give a voice to their historic successes and untapped potential.”