Dr. Twyla Williams-Damond is not scared of life’s challenges. Known for her determination and drive in higher education, Twyla has become an inspiration to many, especially those who have experienced life’s major obstacles like family care, financial hardship, and motherhood. As a professor in ACU’s School of Educational Leadership, Twyla has gained recognition not only for her mentorship of students seeking their Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership but also for her commitment to funding quality charter K-12 education in unreached areas of her community.
Wearing the many hats of scholar, professor, daughter, mom, and mentor, Twyla is proud of where she is today. Through a series of good choices, happy coincidences, and her love for God, she gives thanks, knowing that her time is limited, but her impact can be long-lasting.
From Housewife to Scholar
Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Twyla understood the importance and value of a good education from a young age. Growing up with a father who only held a sixth-grade education, and a mother who was an avid reader, Twyla recalled that education was not up for negotiation but rather something that “you were going to do. Period.” Following her parent’s wishes, she began her undergraduate degree but soon married and decided to dedicate the next 24 years to raising her family. After undergoing life changes in her marriage and family, Twyla remembered her parents’ wish and returned to school at 40 years old ready to finish what she had started with two biological children and four adopted children under her care. Needless to say, going back to school after more than two decades was quite an adjustment for a newly single mom. For the first time in her life, Twyla was on her own, but she didn’t feel like it. Life was chaotic, but for all the right reasons.
“To be honest, school became the one thing that I could control and be very good at because everything else was chaotic in my life,” Twyla said. “I had to take care of these girls. That was my responsibility, but it actually gelled us together more than we knew. It wasn’t necessarily just about me. They knew that in order for me to be a strong mother or a strong maternal figure, I needed to finish this.”
After completing her bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisiana – Lafayette, Twyla knew she was not done yet. By the following year, Twyla had enrolled in a program that would allow her to earn a master’s and doctorate degree in Educational Leadership concurrently. Eighteen months later, Twyla was walking the stage with two degrees in hand, beaming from her hard work and hearing the cheers of her family members. She had finally fulfilled her parents’ wish – now it was time to get to work.
“I just knew that I had kids at home that I had to raise, and I couldn’t be in school forever. Had it not been for my fantastic double Ivy Leaguer chair that whipped me into shape, I wouldn’t have walked into the research positions I was offered right off the bat,” Twyla stated.
Feeling intoxicated by her newfound love for qualitative research and academia, Twyla wasted no time in beginning her first steps as a scholar. Having worked in various positions, including as a research consultant and instructor, dean of student and academic affairs, and serving as a dissertation chair for numerous students seeking their doctoral degrees, Twyla enjoys working with students to pass on her legacy and motto of “I did it, so you can do it, too.”
Building and Funding The Next Generation: K-12 and Beyond
Twyla is passionate about encouraging the next generation of scholars and educators, because she’s experienced the same struggles and joys that they have. At many points during her education and career, Dr. Williams-Damond has been the only female and person of color, as well as one of the youngest people, in a room. As a result, Twyla often felt the pressure to meet the unspoken standards of conducting trending and relevant critical research amidst a predominantly white academic setting. But that didn’t stop her.
Drawing from her love for diversity and bridging the gap between K-12 and university curriculum, Twyla took a bold, unthinkable step. She founded and opened two charter schools; one of them, the Williams Scholar Academy, is a tuition-free school that serves underrepresented children in Abbeville, Louisiana. Focused on collaborating with community educators from local school districts and around the United States, Twyla pulled together a team to implement best practices to create innovative student paths to achieve high academic outcomes.
For Twyla, this is where the real work begins. To her, the foundation of every successful student starts with a good, solid education.
“Anywhere students are underserved or don’t have access to quality education and inclusion, you are going to find me there,” Twyla remarked. “I’m very proud of our schools. They do very well, and you can see that the students are becoming better equipped to go to college, including some getting an associate degree post-high school graduation. In many ways, they outperform other students at different schools, and it’s only now because they have access.”
Seeking to reform the educational system around Louisiana, Twyla knew she still had much more work to do. Managing dozens of doctoral students and committees, Dr. Williams enjoys all aspects of teaching and research, including juggling her multiple roles as an external educational research consultant and professor within the School of Educational Leadership at ACU Online. Twyla loves seeing her students fall in love with their research projects. Discovering this passion for research can be transformational in a student’s life.
Twyla deeply understands this passion and excitement. “I get this high through my students when I help them develop their research,” she exclaimed. “I absolutely love research. When they accomplish their degree, it feels like I get to graduate all over again. It’s truly amazing to see how far students can go if they have the right support backing them up.”
Reminiscing on her long journey thus far, Twyla doesn’t regret any of it. As a first-generation college graduate and single mother, she hopes others can see how diversity, education, and legacy are intertwined with our daily lives and academia as a whole.
“I was the first, but I definitely will not be the last. So, if I can leave that legacy, then I’ve done my job. Simple as that,” Twyla said.
Do you desire to make a difference in the lives of students like Twyla? Visit acu.edu/online or contact us at 855-219-7300 today to learn about our online programs.