Black History Month: A Celebration of Dr. Marvalene Hughes

Josh Duke

As Florida State University celebrates Black History Month, we’re honored to recognize COE alumna Dr. Marvalene A. Hughes (Ph.D. Counseling/School Psychology ’69) for her dedication to the counseling field, her extraordinary philanthropic endeavors, and for being a trailblazer in leadership positions within higher education. The College of Education promotes her legacy of achievement by undertaking noteworthy initiatives, such as relaunching the school counseling program, a Project ElevatED initiative started by Dean Damon Andrew and led by the first tenured African American faculty member in the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems (EPLS), Dr. Erik Hines. Moreover, EPLS has another first African American in the department, Dr. Simone May, a clinical coordinator and teaching faculty in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. "I am inspired by Dr. Hughes, as I want to continue her tradition of excellence,” says Hines. “She has created a pathway for me to engage in my profession of producing the next generation of professional school counselors at my alma mater since she was the first African American to attain a Ph.D. in counseling at FSU."


A Legendary Career

After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tuskegee University and conducting postgraduate work at New York University and Columbia University, Hughes obtained a position at Gibbs Junior College in Pinellas County. During this time, Pinellas County had an agreement with FSU that one faculty member would be sent to FSU to earn a Ph.D. in administration. Especially in this time period, Hughes knew she faced an uphill battle, needing to be chosen over a long line of white men. However, she was determined to earn this opportunity, and through her tenacity and persistence, she won the opportunity. Her career continued in much the same fashion, overcoming adversity and blazing a historic trail in higher education. She served in a number of administrative positions across the country, going from Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) in St. Petersburg to the University of Minnesota, the University of Toledo, Arizona State University and San Diego State University. It wasn’t too long before she earned her first presidency at California State University Stanislaus. Under her leadership, the university increased enrollment, fundraising, capital construction and climbed up the national rankings.

Leading through Crisis

Hughes retired after 11 years at Stanislaus, but she soon after received a call from Dillard University, a historically black private college in New Orleans. She visited the campus a few times and decided that she was interested in tackling a new challenge. What she could not have expected was facing a challenge of historical proportions; just a month into her time as the first elected female president of Dillard University, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and her campus.

However, during this disaster, her experience in leadership allowed her to act quickly and in such a way that she saved lives. She quickly secured buses and moved her students to Shreveport, LA. This decision averted an almost guaranteed disaster; Dillard University was located near the London Avenue Canal, and when the lower levee breached, the university was devastated by flooding of up to 10 feet of water. Not only had she potentially saved the lives of her students, but after Katrina, she saved Dillard University, despite most people in the community claiming it couldn’t be done. With the campus devastated, Hughes formed strategic partnerships and employed some unorthodox thinking to save the university; she approached the vacant Hilton Riverside Hotel and moved the majority of Dillard University’s students, faculty and staff into the empty hotel for the next seven months until she secured funding for a more permanent solution. As she had time and time again, she accomplished what others deemed impossible. Nowadays, Hughes does not face as many disasters, but she is still changing lives and accomplishing great feats. Her generosity has supported the Marvalene Hughes Research in Education Conference, which promotes the sharing of ideas and showcases our faculty members’ and graduate students’ important work. She is recognized as a distinguished alumna by the college and she continues to be an inspiration to students and faculty members everywhere.