By Chara Young
“May the work I’ve done speak for me.” These words, shared by Downtown Campus Dean of Students Edna Jones Miller, are words to live by, passed on from her mother. She has taken them to heart and embodied them in her work ethic and leadership, sharing that “if I am not there, if I’m not present, that work I’ve put my hands to do, and the things that I’ve set out to do, and those who I’ve set out to serve, can speak when I can’t.”
Last month, during an Association for Valencia Women (AVW) Path to Leadership event, Edna shared her journey to Valencia College and her thoughts on topics including the power of mentors, female leadership barriers, work ethic, and the importance of work-life balance and having a good support system. During the session, Edna discussed teachings she learned from her parents and experiences that have most influenced her in life and on her path to leadership.
A native Floridian, Edna had an unlikely path to working in higher education. Upon graduating from the University of South Florida and beginning her graduate studies program, Edna decided to get a job to — in her words — “do my daddy a favor and pay some of my own bills” related to her education. That decision landed her a job at Hillsborough Community College working in student activities, where her leadership in higher education began.
Although she was intensely passionate about student affairs and the impact that higher education can have, there was a time in Edna’s professional journey where she felt stuck. After earning her graduate and doctorate degrees, she wanted more.
Before I came to Valencia, Edna shared, “I was almost done.” Feeling that her career in higher education wasn’t going as she planned, she deeply considered changing her career. However, after a pep talk from her mom, she was encouraged to try one more time — applying for the assistant director of student development on Valencia’s West Campus. To her surprise, she got a call for an interview and the rest is history.
Responding to a question about females in leadership and some of the challenges and barriers faced, Edna stated that one of the barriers “might be us.” Explaining further, she disclosed that she has often struggled with a sense of inadequacy. Even being called to participate in the AVW Path to Leadership session ushered in doubts, prompting her to ask herself “why me” and wonder if she was good enough. Feelings of inadequacy, she shared, for many women are born through experience, maybe even encountering the glass ceiling or being rejected. These feelings, however, can become a sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Calling on another one of her mom’s teachings, she stated the importance of “thinking about what you think about … [and] taking those thoughts captive, particularly those that are negative or against what you believe.”
“Elevate your mind on things above and think about the things that are pure and right: the things you want to come.” Doing this, Edna revealed, is key to overcoming your fear, feelings of inadequacy and that voice that tells you that you’re not good enough. “Those things that you focus on will be the things that come to pass.”
This thinking, this process of meditating on the good, would become critical for Edna, who in 2010 lost her dad and, then, seven years later in 2017, lost her mom. During this time, she admits that she really had to take the time out to feel what she needed to feel and go through her period of grief and sorrow. She allowed herself that time and space, and then recalls putting into practice her mom’s advice to take her thoughts captive, and think about how she wanted to think and feel. And it was those thoughts — “What did mom teach you? What did she say? What was the legacy? What was the gift that she poured into you? What was the charge that she gave you?” — that enabled her to rise above her sorrow and overcome it.
Over the course of the talk, Edna named her mother and Falecia Williams, president, West and Downtown Campuses, as key mentors for her, along with many others along her journey. Her mother, she shared, taught her lessons on how to live, how to be a woman and how to be a mom. After talking to my mom, she said, “it was like walking out with an ‘S’ on my chest.”
When expounding on the importance of mentors, she explained the ideal as having someone you can look up to who helps you grow and someone who looks up to you, who you can serve. As a mentor, she described Dr. Williams as her “shining light” at this time in her life. Her graciousness, as well as her ability to lead and connect with people, solidified for Edna the importance of servant-leadership on your journey, no matter your position or title.
Edna, through sharing her story, was able to encourage and inspire attendees to persevere, even when you have doubts, and remind yourself that you are enough.
“We are more empowered, and more in control of our path to leadership and our path to success, than we want to give ourselves credit for,” she shared.
To learn more about Edna and her path to leadership, watch the video of the AVW Path to Leadership event below.
To learn more about the Association of Valencia Women and becoming a member, visit the AVW website by clicking here.