Jamaican is new Shaw University President
Dr Tashni-Ann Dubroy left Jamaica in 1998 to pursue her love for chemistry, having no idea that her journey would lead her to the pinnacle of academic life at Shaw University.
Known as the mother of African-American colleges in North Carolina, Shaw University is the oldest historically black university in the Southern United States, and has lived up to its history by appointing Dr Dubroy as president - the first Jamaican to hold the post.
The Holy Childhood High and Wolmer's Girls alum's journey at Shaw has seen her transitioning from student to teacher and now leader. Dr Dubroy, whose appointment becomes effective in August, is the third female and second youngest person to serve as the university's president.
In an interview with Outlook, Dr Dubroy explains that her local journey was interrupted after she got accepted to the University of the West Indies but had to take up studies at Shaw when her mother migrated to the United States (US).
"I was accepted into the University of the West Indies, but my mother migrated to the US in my early teenage years, and after I completed sixth form, she was ready to take me with her, so I migrated to pursue a college education," she said.
Once she settled on Shaw University as her place of choice to study, she was already determined to make her mark in the sciences. Dr Dubroy, who is now only 34, began her career as a research scientist at BASF - one of the largest chemical companies in the world. After that stint, she joined the
faculty of Shaw University as an associate professor of chemistry. She later advanced to serve as the department chair before becoming a special assistant to the university's president, with responsibility for process optimisation, a post she held up to the time of being appointed as president.
It should be noted that her foray into the sciences started out as a bumpy ride. According to Dr Dubroy, she had difficulty grasping certain concepts in chemistry - an area she would later come to master and build her career in.
"I remember having a tough time in chemistry class because I couldn't grasp the concept of a mole. My chemistry teacher, Miss McKoy, opined that I had a 'mental block' against chemistry and, once I overcame it, I would be able to understand the subject. At the time, I thought she was oversimplifying my dilemma, but she taught with love and encouraged me to read the concept from multiple sources. I did, and soon, I understood it. By the time I got to fifth form, I was one of two girls at Holy Childhood to receive a one in chemistry at the CXC level. My affinity for chemistry started there," she explained.
Her love of chemistry and entrepreneurship led her to pursue her doctorate and apply that knowledge to co-found Tea and Honey Blends in 2009 - a hair-care company that manufactures and retails natural hair-care products. She later opened the Element Beauty Bar, a hair salon located in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.
According to Dr Dubroy, "Writing an original PhD thesis and conducting research in order to fulfil the requirements for the degree was arguably one of the most significant challenges I faced in the early onset of my academic career. There were times when I wanted to throw in the towel. Conducting original research can be frustrating and, at times, I was my own limitation.
"After achieving my PhD, combining my interest in entrepreneurship proved to be a steep learning curve. I had to polish my business skill set and develop a vocabulary that would help to move my business venture from a dream to a tangible reality."
Dr Dubroy's entrepreneurial ventures should come as no surprise, given that she grew up in a family filled with many entrepreneurs.
"My early childhood experiences formed the framework for the person I am today. I am from May Pen, Clarendon, and my parents are seasoned entrepreneurs who had businesses in multiple industries, including farming, manufacturing of meat products, natural juices, catering and beauty care. By the time I got to Holy Childhood High, my entrepreneurial skill set was well developed. I would travel to the United States on summer vacations, purchase hair accessories and resell them for a profit back in Jamaica. In sixth form at Wolmer's Girls, they voted me 'most likely to become a higgler'," she explained.
While one would be expect to be a little anxious about taking on a new role, Dr Dubroy displays no such inclination. She indicated that her time spent managing the optimisation portfolio, as an assistant to current interim president Dr Gaddis, has equipped her to take on the full rigours of academic leadership.
As she faces her new job, Dr Dubroy hopes to leverage her entrepreneurial skills and indomitable spirit to transform the 150-year-old institution.
Under her leadership, she wants Shaw University to become a melting pot of distinctive, marketable and innovative academic disciplines that are not in operational silos, but are a demonstration of the institution's ability to leverage interdepartmental strengths.