Dr. Debbie G. Thomas has been appointed dean of the College of Education at Grambling State University. Most recently, she served briefly as vice chancellor for learning and instruction at Arkansas State University Mid-South. Prior to that, she served as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Kentucky State University.
Thomas’ higher education career journey has included service as a teacher education professor and numerous leadership positions. She has served as vice president for academic affairs, vice chancellor for learning and instruction, dean of academic affairs, associate provost for institutional effectiveness, and director of teacher education. Additionally, she served as executive director of a university center for regional excellence.
“Transformative education is in my DNA,” she said. “For 30 years, I have served in higher education and remained steadfast in my dedication to the advancement of excellence, access, and equity.”
Thomas is a first generation college student who grew up in Vivian, Louisiana as the sixth of seven children.
“Although our parents were not afforded the opportunity to complete high school or attend college due to daunting sociocultural and socioeconomic challenges, they willingly sacrificed to ensure we could do so,” she said. “From them, we inherited a legacy of perseverance and grit, with which we were determined to either find a way or make one.”
Growing up, Thomas and her siblings learned that with or without bootstraps, they could pursue higher education.
“The question was never if, but rather when and where,” she said. “This familial credo will bode well for me as dean of the College of Education at Grambling State University. It undergirds my commitment as a catalyst for change who is paying it forward by providing educational opportunities to transform the life trajectories of others, just as mine was changed.”
Thomas said she has a family connection to GSU explaining that “two of my six siblings attended college at Grambling. My brother, Troy Thomas, aka “Too Tall,” played football under the great Coach Eddie Robinson.”
During her career, Thomas provided institutional leadership for regional community engagement across a seven-county area by developing transformative initiatives to enhance the quality of life region-wide through collaborative partnerships promoting research, teaching, and service with organizations focused on education, health disparities, culture, economic development, arts, and environmental sustainability.
“My career achievements in higher education have included leading collaborative teams to create and implement an institution-wide academic program review and operational efficiency model; directing institutional accreditation and reaffirmation as well as program accreditation efforts,” she said.
Thomas’ work has also included implementing strategic planning initiatives for student success; securing grant funding to enhance teaching, research and service; providing professional development and support programs; maintaining transparent communication and shared governance; and eliminating institutional silos to promote collaboration.
“While I am indeed grateful for each of the aforementioned achievements, the absolute greatest honor of my life is to serve as the proud single mother of my two adult children: Stephen, who is a physician, and Imani, a professional creative and director of digital marketing,” she said. “They have been my best teachers and it is from them that I have learned my most transformative life lessons.”
Thomas has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) (formerly, Northeast Louisiana University). She completed her doctorate at Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a focus on curriculum and instruction.
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