Where There's a Will ...
... There's a Holloway
Back when she was a student dealing with her own traumatic experiences, this Birmingham native literally changed her major five times, finally settling on psychology. Now, there’s hardly a stellar young scholar on The Hill who hasn’t sung her praises. In this in-depth interview, we learn “what gives?”
An informative interview with academic learning enhancement specialist Carla Draper-Holloway of the Honors Center.
BULLDOG BOTTOMLINE: Who has had the biggest influence on your life (past and present)?
CARLA DRAPER HOLLOWAY: My mother, Deborah Ann Draper (who died unexpectedly in 2003) is by far my biggest influence. As a single parent, she taught me so much. She taught me about faith and trusting in a higher power; the importance of service; and to be confident, while motivating me to dream big. But more than anything, I learned how to use adversity and trials (the valleys of life) to be better, not bitter. She pushed me harder than anyone else in my life. She believed in education and taught me the difference between good and EXCELLENT, stressing repeatedly that my name should be associated with excellence. A recurring quote that she often shared with me is this: “Carla, no matter what you do, autograph your work with excellence. I don’t care if you are just sweeping a floor; it should be so clean that anyone that sees it knows that Carla must have done that, simply because it was excellent!”
My husband is the love of my life and the epitome of strength. He is the chief of the Holloway clan. He is the best person I know. My children, too, are exceptionally influential. I know that no matter how many hats I wear, the proudest hat I own is that of a mother. They are my greatest achievements.
What high school did you attend in Birmingham? Which teacher was like a mentor to you?
Ramsay High School. I love my high school! Ms. A. Johnson was my 10th and 11th grade English teacher. She sparked my love for writing. Mr. Edward Crenshaw was my music teacher, my high school band director, and a great mentor. He was one of the first teachers that entrusted me with leadership (I was the majorette captain for three years) and gave me the freedom to create.
Where did you complete your undergraduate degree (and what field)?
Alabama A&M University! Class of 1999, psychology major. I received my master’s in counseling psychology at Alabama A&M, as well, in 2002.
Why did you choose A&M and why that field in particular?
Helping people gives my life purpose. Psychology is a field that encompasses how to understand behavior and trains you to maximize interactions, consider dilemmas from different perspectives and understand the techniques to help others solve their problems.
My own personal experience with trauma led to my initial interest in psychology, but I was hesitant to major in a ‘helping field’ at first (I actually changed my major five times!). People always talked about how STEM fields led to a greater salary. After taking general psychology from Dr. Katie Byrd, I knew that psychology was the field for me.
AAMU is a family tradition! Although neither graduated, my parents met at the university. My father decided to join the military after a few years, so he married my mother and they moved overseas. They eventually divorced.
My grandmother, sister, aunts, cousins – all attended Alabama A&M. And I met my husband at Alabama A&M, as well. I met him on my 7th day at the University, and we have been together ever since. He attended almost 4 years, but never graduated. But he is a Bulldog through and through!!!
Who was your collegiate mentor?
Dr. Katie Byrd, former professor of psychology, was the reason I chose psychology as my major. She taught the class with passion and excitement and made the numerous theories and concepts relatable. Her door was always open whenever I had a question or needed advice. She was amazing!
Dr. Everton Mcintosh, also a professor in psychology, was also very influential throughout my college career. His expectations surpassed even my own high standards. His courses were the most challenging courses I’ve ever had, but I learned more than I ever thought I could. He provided me with a sound theoretical foundation of the discipline. He was—and is still—a psychology GENIUS. He remains the heart and soul of the psychology department.
I was tremendously involved in student leadership/campus activities in undergraduate. Dean James Garner (Student Affairs) was very supportive, as was Ms. Brendlyn Hall and Ms. Jacqueline Flowers (Residential Life). They were my ‘moms on The Hill’!
How many years have you been affiliated with A&M's honors program?
I began working in the Honors Program in the summer 2006 … so about 14 years. Prior to my work in Honors, I was in the Office of Retention & Academic Support.
What is it about the Honors Program that makes you look forward to coming in to work?
The students. It is all about the students. Alabama A&M University continues to attract quality students to The Hill, and the brightest stars are in the Honors Program. Working with ‘fresh’ brilliance from year to year is both challenging and exhilarating. Being able to motivate and assist in molding these brightest minds is the honor of my life. In addition to advising and instructing several honors courses, my position entails being a “connoisseur” of opportunities. From research programs, to internships, to professional and leadership development, to graduate schools--knocking down doors of opportunity for my students, is what I do. Utilizing already-formed partnerships and/or ‘finding a way or making one’ for unique fields of interest is exciting.
I love the freedom that I have to create programming designed to push the students beyond what they ever thought they could be, to go where they never thought they would go, to do what they only dreamed they could do.
My charge to my students is to “Climb Higher.” Once they reach one mountain, they need to find a higher mountain to climb. There should always be taller mountains, bigger goals, larger accomplishments, higher callings.
When your family was confronted by a tornado a decade ago and you found yourself holding on to your child, describe your feelings as you faced the next morning?
It was very hard to sleep the night of April 27, 2011. I remember waking up continuously to look at my children, to hold them, I had to make sure they were breathing. Some moments throughout the night I woke up and had to grapple with the fact that what happened was real; it was not a dream. The morning after, I was still, physically, in pain. Being thrown by the tornado and pummeled by large debris fractured both of my hips and left a large gash in my right leg that required about 20 stitches. I felt a number of different fears: fear of another tornado; fears about where my family would live long-term; fears about how my children would recover from the trauma of what happened; fears about how we would ever fully recover from losing everything.
At the same time, I felt empowered. Right there in the midst of my fears, I felt a spark of assurance. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my children and I should have died. There were over 300 deaths from the same tornado that ripped through my community; the same tornado that spared my children and me. There were also several deaths in my neighborhood. The fact that we were all still alive confirmed that my life had purpose. My children’s life still had purpose. I was encouraged that God still had use of me.
What makes you sad about some of your interactions with your students?
One of the most frustrating things I experience when working with some of my brightest students is that they do not fully comprehend their potential.
It also hurts my heart when I see students struggle emotionally and/or academically because of various problems at home—and students who lack family support and resources. I have many students who have to financially support themselves by working several jobs, while trying to balance school. These students are robbed of the full college experience and are sometimes robbed of opportunities.
In the wake of the current Coronavirus 2019, what is it about the resilience of some of your past and current students that lets you know AAMU students will get through this?
The majority of AAMU students have already survived so much. I have had students (past and current) who have outlasted real life horrors. From students who’ve suffered extreme physical, sexual and emotional abuse to students who suffer from mental health difficulties, survived homelessness, and long-term illnesses. I’ve had and have students raised in multiple foster homes, raised in violent areas, students who are sole providers for younger siblings, those who dealt with and are dealing with the loss of one or more parents, as well as students who have served as the only caretakers to parents and/or grandparents.
We have students at the University who have already defied numerous odds just simply being in college. Resiliency is a way of life for a great number of our students. They know how to survive. Our students are hopeful. They believe the best. Their audacious posture is then touched by Councill’s formidable spirit that still hovers over every aspect of campus and down every hill, through every building. A pandemic???? AAMU students got this!
Thinking back over the years, about how many honors students can your recall who have gone on to receive their doctorates?
The Honors Program has had many students (at least 20 to 25, just from the 14 years that I’ve been in Honors) go on to receive doctoral degrees (or currently studying). From doctors, educators, lawyers, to scientists, experts in business and Wall Street, military officers, and positions in the highest levels of government … I can’t even post what they do. Honors Program students have flourished.
Indonesia Jordan, 2019 AAMU Graduate (Enrolled in the Ph.D. Psychology program in Neuroscience at UAB)
Dr. Brook Sims, psychologist in the U.S. Navy
Dr. Chaniece White, physician
Leburia Johnson – lawyer, Army Jag
Jazmin Shorter - lawyer
Dr. Marshall Pritchett and Dr. Kaisha Bellingheri (physician and veterinarian, they met in Honors and are now married)
Kevin Ferguson – Harvard MBA student
Dr. Carmen Moon – physical therapist
Dr. Brittney Christian – chiropractor (just graduated!)
Dr. Valery Batimba - physician
What has been the most touching statement that a student has ever made to you?
I have the best students. I have received countless gifts. But my favorites are cards and pictures. A few years ago, students presented me with a musical snow globe that played the same song as my mom’s music box. I had lost that music box (along with everything else that I owned) in the 2011 tornado. I didn’t know the name of the song, but I tried many music boxes to see if I could find one that matched my mom’s song. I mentioned this some years back. I don’t know how in the world they found it. My favorite? I had a group of students that got together to make a slideshow for me with videos of some of my most prominent past students. I cried for days and watched it probably a hundred times!
- Jerome Saintjones