On the Job with Rhonda Bryant

Rhonda Bryant is the new vice president of student affairs for Albany State University.

Rhonda Bryant is the new vice president of student affairs for Albany State University.

When Dr. Rhonda Bryant, the newly-tapped vice president of student affairs at Albany State University, was a little girl, she learned early how to dream big.

In a recent interview with The Herald’s J.D. Sumner, Bryant confesses that as a young girl her dream was to float among the stars as an astronaut. Instead, Bryant has dedicated her life to academia and found herself helping students realize their own dreams and aspirations.

Q: What was your first job?

A: My first job was unpaid. I was 10 years old and my father made me teach myself to type. So during that summer — I grew up in Washington, D.C., but I spent my summers in North Carolina with family — all my friends were going to the country that summer and everybody was doing fun things, but my father pulled out a Smith Corona power typewriter and brought out the old typing manual and said “you’re going to teach yourself how to type.” I was so angry; I was so frustrated. I said, “You never let me have any fun, I don’t get to go anywhere or do anything,” and it was the best thing that anyone ever made me do. So because I did that, when I got to college I was able to type my own papers, I was able to type for other people. When keyboarding and computers came about, of course, I was able to go a lot faster than everybody else.


NAME: Rhonda M. Bryant

JOB: Vice president of student affairs, Albany State University

TIME OF THE JOB: One month in current position

PERSONAL: Married to Lawrence; two daughters

Q: What did you do with your first paycheck?

A: I would like to say something very lofty and noble, but I’m positive the first thing I did was went and bought a book and then I bought shoes and a pocketbook.

Q: What are your central priorities each day?

A: My biggest priority is to make sure our programs touch every student. Not just our traditional, moving-from-high-school-to-college student — those students are important — but we have adult learners, we have people who maybe started a degree but, for whatever reason, never finished it and are trying again, we have military folks who aren’t just active service members but who may be reserve or retired service members or maybe just left the military and also their dependents and we also have a sizeable number of students who are online, so building a program that touches every student who matriculates at Albany State University is my biggest priority right now; my highest priority.

Q: Did you ever expect to find yourself in your current position?

A: Absolutely not. I am first-generation college at the University of Virginia. I majored in psychology and because I was first-generation college, most of my effort was on finishing school in four years. The idea of career readiness, career planning didn’t really hit me until second semester senior year, which is very late. My best friend, who got accepted into a counseling program, said, “You know, you’d be really good at that,” and I went to the director of the counseling program and told him, “Well, my grades are OK and my test scores might not be what you want but if you give me a chance, I’ll finish; I promise I’ll finish,” and he gave me a scholarship and he let me into the school. So with that I became a professional counselor.

Q: If you were stranded on an island, what three items would you like to have with you?

A: My prayer book. A cellphone that has range so I could call somebody. And an emergency kit with food and medicine and rations.

Q: What challenges have you noticed for college students who are entering college for the first time or might be returning to school after a long absence?

A: I think there is a learning curve for every student who comes back, who comes to school, whether it’s for the first time or whether they lost their job and came back. It would be for me, even if I were to go back and take classes or do something else because every learning experience is different.

But the one thing I try and stress to anyone who is coming is that this is an opportunity to develop, to learn new things about yourself and its not just career training.

Q: What would you say is your most valuable piece of office technology?

A: I really like my iPad. When I first got it, I was like “What am I supposed to do ... this is nice,” but it keeps me on time, it syncs with my meetings, if I flick across the screen I can see what’s going on on the Internet, on campus; I get emails right away. The downside of it is that you’ve got to know when to put it down.

Q: If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, real or imaginary, who would it be and why?

A: Zippora, Moses’s wife. She was a spouse to a leader, but she had to be a leader herself. But she couldn’t be in the spotlight. And so I would really be interested ... What was it like to help your husband lead all of those people and still be the wind under his wings and be OK not necessarily being in the spotlight?

Q: What did you want to be when you were a little girl?

A: I wanted to be an astronaut. I grew up, like I said, in inner-city Washington, and the summer before I went to grade school my mother had just gone with me to Buster Brown to get some Buster Brown shoes for school. We came home and it was the day of an Apollo launch, and I remember watching. It must have been 1969, and I remember watching and listening and I knew it was a big deal because my mother and everyone just gathered in the room and I remember thinking “I want to do that! I want to go somewhere that nobody has really ever been to see what I can see for myself.” Of course, at that time I didn’t understand about all of the science and technology behind it; it just looked cool.

Q: What advice would you have for a young person who is on the cusp of entering your field?

A: Read. Read everything that you can get your hands on. Not just on topics that you have a personal interest in, but if you hold an ideology close to you, read on the opposite of that ideology. Learn about how others think because then you can make well-crafted rationale for what you believe. And you may find out it’s not as ironclad as you thought.