Albion Welcomes Dr. Ashley Woodson as Dean of the School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement

Through Dean Woodson’s leadership, the School and its students will deeply engage with the community and be part of Albion College’s innovative approach to a liberal arts education.

July 22, 2021

By John Perney

Dr. Ashley Woodson

Dr. Ashley Woodson received her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Michigan State University. She also completed her master’s degree at MSU, in African and African American Studies, counseling and educational psychology, and special education. She received her B.A. in communication studies from Saginaw Valley State University.

Shortly before her campus presentation as a finalist to become Albion College’s first dean of the School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement, Dr. Ashley Woodson thought of a woman who impacted her greatly years ago, and still does today.

The woman was Sheila Chapman, former youth program director of Victorious Believers Ministries’ Sunshine Band in Saginaw.

“I heard her voice before my talk,” Woodson recalls, adding that Chapman is a sister of Milton Barnes, ’79, co-founder of Albion’s Black Alumni Chapter. “She was my Sunday school teacher and taught me how to hold a microphone, how to articulate while on stage. She taught me how to command an audience, to enter a space and communicate verbally—and nonverbally—what I had to share.”

Woodson soon was invited to join the Albion community to lead the new School. And now, during her first days as dean, her thoughts naturally turn to two more role models: her parents, who years earlier continued in their college-education pursuit just as Woodson was beginning hers.

“Growing up, the adults in my life did college over a period of time,” she says, adding that college wasn’t on her immediate horizon despite serving as president of her high school’s Black student organization and graduating with honors. “My parents inspired me. They made studying make sense; made not going out on Friday make sense.”

Together, these recollections continue to provide a sense of purpose in Woodson’s work that she is excited to share with her students at Albion.

“I didn’t go to college necessarily to get a career, but to prove something,” she continues. “But through the grace and guidance of so many I ended up with a Ph.D. And I’ve tried to employ the skills I’ve developed through the Ph.D. process in answering those questions for students in a similar circumstance.”

Redefining a Timeless Notion

Anchored in the idea that colleges and universities have a responsibility to cultivate a commitment to public purpose in their graduates, Albion’s School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement will offer students new opportunities in experiential and professional learning. The School will serve as home for the College’s current and future institutes and centers and will offer a new academic credential for undergraduates—the experiential certificate—that will be designed by students with intensive advising and peer mentoring through the institutes and centers.

The blend of coursework, experiential learning and training that will make up each certificate will be unique for each student. But one thing they will have in common is professional development within the framework of community engagement.

“Professional development, of course that refers to building resumes and being ready for an interview,” Woodson explains. “But it also refers to being able to present oneself in a dynamic world—in a changing world—in ways that mitigate harm, in ways that help to heal, where we can use our credentials to effect change. I am hoping that the professional development opportunities we support through the School help to nurture that conversation as well. These are people who have the potential to act as change agents, and we all become better through that process.”

Woodson comes to Albion from the University of Michigan, where she was assistant director at the National Center for Institutional Diversity. Before that, she was assistant professor of social studies education at the University of Missouri and a senior leadership team member for the university’s Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity. That followed three years as an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban Education. She holds a current appointment as director of Virtual Freedom Schools for the Abolitionist Teaching Network.

“Dr. Woodson brings a wealth of experience in engaged scholarship, critical race theory and social activism,” wrote Dr. Ron Mourad, provost, in a message to the Albion College community. “Under her leadership, I know that the School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement will continue to grow into a national model for a new engaged and experiential approach to the liberal arts.”

Building Trust

That growth also means developing and deepening roots, and for Woodson, who has kept tabs on Albion (College and City) since her graduate school classmate Dr. Dominick Quinney was hired as assistant professor of ethnic studies in 2013, it’s an opportunity like no other.

“I have never worked or served in a community with this much pride in itself,” Woodson says. “The people of Albion are remarkably in touch with their history and have a considerable, radical hope for the future and the role that the College might play in securing that future. And that is encouraging.

“It is an honor to be invited as a partner to work toward these dreams,” she adds, “and my first goal is to rebuild trust with the Albion community. My second goal is to gain trust from the students, who are going to commit aspects of their academic journey and identity development to this space. I want to know that the School is responsive to their needs, that we anticipate and hear their needs, that we ensure those needs are met.”

Albion College’s School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement is located within the Ludington Center, at 101 N. Superior St. in downtown Albion, one-half mile from campus.