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Terrell Strayhorn Speaks to Empowering Others Through Education



Terrell Strayhorn

As an advocate for education, Dr. Terrell Strayhorn is an award-winning scholar, author, and public intellectual who uses public talks to engage broad audiences. He currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as the president, CEO, and senior research scientist of Do Good Work Consulting.

Born and raised in Virginia, Terrell Strayhorn graduated from Kempsville High School with honors. He went on to the University of Virginia, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Religious Studies. He also earned a master’s degree in Education Policy from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, where he later received the Outstanding Alumni Higher Education Faculty Award. In addition, he holds a doctoral degree in Higher Education (i.e., the academic study of postsecondary education) from Virginia Tech. From Virginia Tech, he won both the Graduate Student of the Year Award and later the Don G. Creamer Outstanding Alumni Award.

Prior to founding Do Good Work, Terrell Strayhorn served on the faculty and in academic administration roles at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and The Ohio State University. Prior to earning his Ph.D., he worked as a research associate at the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) in Washington and The Helix Group, a minority-owned public health research consulting firm.

Terrell Strayhorn has written 10 books and more than 200 chapters, journal articles, and other scholarly publications. He has presented hundreds of keynote presentations and lectures at more than 700+ universities, schools, companies, and conferences around the world. His research focuses on major policy issues in education, including student access and achievement, issues of race, equality, and diversity, the impacts of college on students, and student learning and development. Primarily, his scholarship advances scientific and theoretical understanding about the social determinants of student success. In addition to his roles at Do Good Work Consulting, Dr. Strayhorn also serves as a professor of urban education at LeMoyne-Owen College and a methodologist at Walden University.

Why did you decide to create Do Good Work Consulting?

Education has always been a huge part of my life. It has opened so many doors for me throughout my life, and it continues to do so. First of all, after giving a TEDx talk, I was receiving an influx of invitations for public speaking events and professional services; creating the company seemed like a logical next step to bridge the gap between my educational work and consulting work. Do Good Work helps address the problem with declining college enrollment rates. We help schools and colleges support students and increase enrollment by identifying new growth markets and developing new enrollment management plans. Declining college enrollment impacts us all.

How do you empower others?

One of the best ways to empower others is to act as a mentor and teacher by showing them how to achieve their goals and pursue their passions to become successful. It is important to help others identify their passions and what drives them towards specific goals, despite any obstacles that may exist. Over the years, I’ve been able to do this with hundreds (if not thousands) of students, advisees, and my current protégés. I collaborate with them on research projects, teaching them through demonstration, emulation, and application how to, say, identify a research problem, review the literature, frame a problem, analyze data, or write it up for publication. I then work with them to help them create a plan to achieve their goals. I give them feedback on their plans, their ideas, their dreams, and their difficulties. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than helping others learn to help themselves and become their greatest possible selves.

What traits do you possess that make you a successful leader?

I have a passion for helping others succeed, and that ties into everything else. I plan extensively and prioritize everything that needs to get done on any given day, which is important in terms of leadership if you need to delegate tasks to other team members. Often you have to do your job before other people can do theirs. Sometimes that calls for early mornings, late nights, and long work weeks, but it’s rewarding to know that you’re enabling the success of others and the team. I have also always been motivated and inspired by those around me, including family members, friends, students, and staff. They make me better. I think it’s important for leaders to draw inspiration from those around you as that will ultimately help you grow and develop.

How do you become a better public speaker?

This is a question that brings up a major issue that a lot of people struggle with. I’d say first off, and you should practice what you will say in front of a mirror by yourself and also practice it in front of an audience you already know, like your family and friends (or pets lol). Those are the hardest people to present in front of because they are in your direct circle. It may even make you laugh, which makes it an even more difficult audience to present for. Make sure you can do a (near) perfect run-through and then make any changes to your actual presentation based on their honest feedback. Be sure to listen and stay open to their feedback—it’s actually one of the greatest gifts a person can give you: honest, constructive feedback. Once you master presenting in front of people you know, it is much easier to present in front of people you don’t know.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from managing your business?

Plan your day-to-day tasks so that you can get everything accomplished. It is so easy for a day to go by with little to show for it. I have learned over time to plan my schedule meticulously, even to set aside blocks of time dedicated to specific tasks (e.g., email, check invoices). I have also learned that micromanaging accomplishes very little. You can’t concentrate on your own work if you’re too focused on what everyone else is doing. If you can’t trust your team, then you’ve hired the wrong people. That’s the best part of leading the team at Do Good Work—where half of us were already working remotely before coronavirus. I trust my team and know that they’re committed to our mission and purpose. That drives them to #dogoodwork (pun intended), regardless of who’s watching.

How do you overcome mistakes and failures?

Mistakes and failures used to send me into a downward spiral through which I found myself endlessly obsessing over what went wrong. I don’t have to tell you that this was detrimental to my productivity and my mindset overall. But, to overcome these hurdles, I did an extensive amount of research. So, I used my strengths and my passion for learning how to cope better. I now intentionally use a growth mindset that views mistakes and failures as an opportunity to learn, grow, and change for the better. When mistakes happen, I don’t obsess over things I cannot change. Rather, I think about what can be learned or improved for the future. This has led me to help create and implement new practices for my business and our clients, therefore improving workflow and processes. It has made a big difference.

 Why is it important to motivate students to pursue higher education?

As previously stated, I believe declining enrollment for higher education impacts us all. It is bad for colleges and universities that rely on tuition to hire top talent, conduct leading research, provide support services, and keep their doors open. It affects the economy by reducing the number of trained individuals for many skilled jobs, which often go unfilled due to a shortage of workers nationwide. It deprives us of talented individuals that otherwise would be able to reach their full potential with higher education. I say it this way: within today’s student population may be the cure for cancer, the vaccine for coronavirus, or the solution to a problem that’s affecting your community or country. Higher education gives them the tools to unlock those mysteries, reveal new discoveries, and find answers. It is, therefore, important to encourage our future leaders to pursue their passions and obtain an education to benefit both society and us as a whole.

How do you spend your free time?

I try to stay active by running and riding my bike. I also enjoy playing the piano. Ultimately, I make time to do the things I enjoy, like spending time with my family, friends, and my 4-lb Yorkie puppy (Teddy), of course!


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