Q & A
William A. Person is the interim dean of graduate studies and associate vice president for academic affairs at Mississippi State University. A member of the MSU faculty since 1977, he holds the rank of professor of curriculum and instruction. Last year, the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning named him the 2006 Black Educator of the Year. He is also a “double dawg,” having earned his master’s and doctorate from the University of Georgia (MEd, ’73 and EdD, ’77). Last fall, he joined the UGA Graduate Education Advancement Board, a distinguished group of alumni, executives and leaders who promote the vision of the UGA Graduate School as a benchmark for graduate education. Person had the following exchange with Lollie Hoots, head of graduate school communications, for the Graduate School Magazine.
GS: What have been the biggest challenges in your career as both a professor and an administrator?
PERSON: As a professor, one of my biggest challenges has been utilizing instructional strategies that encourage students to focus on higher levels of learning rather than being overly concerned about receiving a certain grade on a project or in a course. Another challenge has been getting my students to focus on competing with themselves rather than competing with their classmates. Students tend to measure their achievements by how well they perform in relation to other students rather than their own progress in a course of study.
As an administrator, one of my biggest challenges has been getting people to truly subscribe to utilizing the team concept in their organizational relationships. Another challenge has been to keep people focused on the mission of the organization in their planning, development, and implementation of program activity.
GS: How do you think Graduate School has changed since you were a student? Do you think things have gotten easier for students in terms of funding and research opportunities, and in general, access to higher education?
PERSON: Today, graduate school opportunities have become much more accessible. There are many more options for financial support. Also, the option to attend graduate school has moved from being perceived primarily as a luxury to more of a necessity.
GS: What advice would you share with graduate students today in terms of succeeding in the workplace? With faculty? With administrators?
PERSON: I believe success stems from one’s ability to get along well with others and to work as a part of a team in an organization. Employing a positive work ethic also plays a significant role in one’s success in the workplace.
GS: Having been named Black Educator of the Year in Mississippi, to what do you attribute your successes and how can others, particularly those from underrepresented populations, learn from the examples you’ve set?
PERSON: I believe that whatever successes I have experienced over the years in academe have been primarily centered around three things: (1) always putting students first; (2) developing and implementing meaningful, strategic plans; and (3) having a high level of passion for my work.
GS: What is something that most people don’t know about you or would be surprised to learn?
PERSON: Surprisingly, I really enjoy helping with household activities. As a matter of fact, I am the official dishwasher in our home, and my wife loves it.
GS: What books are you reading now? PERSON: The World is Flat by Friedman and Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Bossidy and Charan.
GS: If you could wake up doing something different professionally, what would it be?
PERSON: I hope to wake up a few years from now as president of a regional university in the South.
GS: Who has most influenced your life, personally and professionally, and how?
PERSON: It is virtually impossible to answer this question as so many individuals have been very influential in my personal and professional development. I owe so much to my father and mother who provided a strong and supportive family environment with much teaching and discipline. My professional mentors include such individuals as Mr. Calvin Paschall, my elementary school principal in Kittrell, North Carolina; Dr. Doyne Smith and Dr. David Mullen, my major professor and dissertation director respectively at UGA; Dr. Howard G. Adams, CEO of HG Adams and Associates; Dr. Livingston Alexander, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford; and many others.
GS: Anything else you’d like to share?
PERSON: A beautiful lady named M. Frances Person is my very best friend and confidant. She also happens to be my wife. We have five wonderful children, four sons and one daughter, who are all married. We also have five lovely grandchildren, three boys and two girls. (And a new grand-daughter, Marlee Houston Washington, born October 11, 2006.)