This post was guest written by MGA Interim Provost, Dr. Debra Matthews

During Black History Month, there are names of famous African Americans that we all know and others who have had a direct influence on our lives that are only known to us individually. There have been many such individuals in my life; however, one of the greatest influences is my grandmother.

Born in 1882, just seventeen years after the Civil War, and growing up during the early 1900s, my grandmother realized the special significance of an education for African Americans and for women. Whenever I would come home from school, my grandmother’s first question would invariably be, “What did you make today?”  I would tell her of some test or class assignment.  She would appropriately use the word “make” rather than “do” as a way of asking about all of my school experiences for that day. She understood education to be a cumulative process, and each day at school was just one step closer to achievements that she hoped I would eventually make.

Early on, the importance of an education was stressed in my family. A set of luggage was a standard graduation gift from my parents. Therefore, when I graduated, I did not wonder whether I would attend college or not; it was not even a question of where.  Never having to look beyond my brother or an older sister for a role model, I initially went where they had gone—Albany, Georgia. I can remember one summer at then Albany State College when I did not have housing for the first week. Since I could not drive a standard shift truck, my mother drove the distance of almost three hours roundtrip, and waited while I attended classes. That early commitment to education that I saw in the faces of my grandmother, parents, siblings, and community led me to the classroom.

I taught my first adult class while attending graduate school at Howard University. Eighty-five percent of my students were from foreign countries. As a result of my early teaching experiences, my philosophy of composition centers on exposing students to a variety of teaching techniques to foster an appreciation for the writing process in all aspects of their lives. It is perhaps that strong desire to convey this message that caused me to return to the classroom at one point in my life, leaving behind a promising career with the federal government.

After completing my master’s at Howard University, I had a desire to return to Georgia. Robins Air Force Base had a professional program that guaranteed employment and promotion for students who graduated in the top ten percent of their undergraduate class. I was accepted into the program and worked for five years in electronic warfare, while continuing to teach part-time, which eventually resulted in a full-time position at Macon State College. While this institution has gone through several transitions to become now Middle Georgia State University, many of us have experienced personal transitions as well, including me.

Although my first inclination is to think of myself as a teacher and not an administrator, I have frequently found myself in an administrative role. My administrative philosophy is rooted in the belief that people have to be treated with respect and trusted to maintain high professional standards.  With each new role, I am often reminded of my grandmother’s question: “What did you make today?”  It is a simple question that promotes a type of reflection that is not so simple.  The question could apply to any of us, and it is one that is especially relevant during this Black History Month.


Reference: Matthews, Debra. “A Cumulative Process: A Reflective View of a Higher Education Journey.” Studies in Humanities, vol. 36, no. 2, Dec. 2009, pp. 94-97..