Dr. Cynthia Warrick: The First Female President Of Stillman College Is Preparing The Next Generation For The Challenges Of Life

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By H&S Staff

“I’ve been trailblazing all along,” says Dr. Warrick who recently took time to speak with us. One of the most important things we can do for the next generation is to prepare them for the challenges of life. Dr. Cynthia Warrick has done this and more by laying a foundation with a comprehensive blueprint that will benefit generations to come. A woman of many firsts, Dr. Warrick is no stranger to pioneering change and breaking barriers. With a history of leadership at HBCUs, her current role is apropos. We recently had the opportunity to catch-up with Dr. Warrick who currently serves as the president of Stillman College in West Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Who is Dr. Cynthia Warrick?

Dr. Cynthia Warrick is a pharmacist, researcher, and has an extensive academic career serving as Faculty and Administrator. Hailing from San Antonio, TX she was one of the first women to own and operate a pharmacy in her hometown. She is the seventh president of Stillman College and is focused on academic excellence, ensuring administrative responsibility, and improving student outcomes.

How did she start in higher education and faculty and administration?

 As an active community member, Dr. Warrick was elected to serve on the Alamo Colleges District Board of Trustees. She served as vice-chair of the finance committee and the policy and planning committee. Warrick’s time spent in this role exposed her to the world of faculty and administration especially given all of the changes the community college system was undergoing demographically and the onset of the skills test that Texas was implementing at the time.

I started getting exposure to higher education because we passed a bond issue to improve some facilities and we also looked at programs and that’s when the demographics of the community college system was changing. One of the community colleges in SA is SA College and traditionally it had a majority white student population and so the faculty reflected that population but In the 80s, the transition to a more Latino/people of color population; the demographics just like the state’s demographics in the community college system was changing. So, people had to really figure out, well what do we do. The skills test that students have to take, that was happening in the 80s. That’s when they implemented the Texas Academic Skills, the TEAKS, and the TAAS was being put in place because they were seeing this difference in the outcomes of the students -traditional students and this new student- Latinos, Blacks, Asians; all of these multicultural students. The differences in the testing or their achievement was pretty stark. I was the representative to the Higher Education Commission in Austin that they formed to comment on what [Texas] was going to do about math and reading in the state of Texas and how do we get that converted into the community colleges. What do we have to do in the community colleges to improve these skills? I was the college district’s representative to that Higher Education Committee down in Austin and that’s when I started thinking, “okay I can be a college president and come up with more innovative ideas to do stuff and then I run a business and I kind of felt that there needed to be more business of Higher Ed.

What brought her to Stillman College?

At the behest of one of her colleagues, who advised her that Stillman needed her leadership and expertise, Dr. Warrick decided to go to Tuscaloosa. She says that she was apprehensive being that she had just served as Interim President at Grambling State University. She’d also just started her own non-profit, The Society for Diversity in the Biomedical Sciences (SDBS), and was really focused on doing something to get more African-Americans and Latinos into bio-medical research and the healthcare industry.

One of my colleagues who is the president of the Thurgood Marshall College fund started a search firm and they had the Stillman Interim President position as one of their accounts. He called and said, “Cynthia Stillman needs you, I need you to go interview at Stillman, they need an Interim President and they need you.” So I was like okay, that was after Grambling and so I said okay just for you.  So I go and get to the campus. I had never been to Tuscaloosa, never been to Alabama and I was pleasantly surprised, it was a beautiful campus. Tuscaloosa is a very nice town, nicer than a lot of places I’ve worked before. But I was kind of like ooohh I don’t know if I want to do this. I was trying to get the committee not to select me so I was being very direct. They were like why don’t you want to be the permanent president and I said because people won’t’ like me after I make those hard decisions and the change that’s going to have to take place in order to turn the institution around. But then I saw the students they needed me and the institution, it had a lot of potential, so I said yeah I can do it. It’s been good; it’s the one place where I really feel appreciated.

On being the first female president of Stillman College…

Not wanting the focus to be on her, Dr. Warrick has taken the opportunity to shift the focus beyond her being the first female president to promote other women in Alabama.

 What we did was use it as an opportunity to celebrate other women. When I got there everybody was making a big deal but I was like it’s not about me, it’s about the school and the kids and I said there must be something else we can do instead of pushing me out there. I didn’t really want to steal all the limelight. I said well, let’s honor all of the female-first in Alabama. So, we started doing that when our first Founders Day Gala we had the Alabama female-first and we honored the first female who happens to be a Black Congresswoman in Alabama and the first woman who was the Supreme Court Justice. Every year we’ve had a group of about 18 women who are from Alabama or in Alabama who have been the first of this – because people just don’t recognize women and the hard work that we do and so I said let’s honor all of them. We’ve done it three years and this last year, because of COVID we didn’t so we’ll do it again next year and we’re just really excited because we see so many first.

What was the inspiration behind the recent commissioned mural?

Stillman recently commissioned a new mural in their Hay Center to commemorate the past and capture the best of the college. The project has been in the works for several months and will have an official unveiling ceremony after spring break.

That was trustee Taroue Brooks, he’s been on the board I think two years now. We’ve always talked and he’s been very supportive about using his network of influence and people he knows for the college and that’s what board members do – are supposed to do – and he does it very well. He’s facilitated other interviews, he’s facilitated meetings with various folks and now this mural, it’s amazing. Just to watch them and watch the artist and see it go from a blank wall to this beautiful canvas in our dining facility is just amazing. It has this theme through it because the students actually participated, they did focus groups. They got input from alumni and from students and from faculty and people on campus and they got input as to what should be in this mural. So definitely they wanted to show students they wanted to show the historic, the history, the historic students, because it was founded in 1876, so it’s educational and then it has the magnolias. So we have these huge magnolia trees throughout the campus and so it has the magnolia flowers and then it has the seal with magnolia in it and then it has “Hail o hail” which is part of the alma mater. It has those things that people who attended Stillman; they know it means something. It’s very meaningful to them and so I think when they see it they are just going to — you’ll see lots of selfies — you’ll see lots of people taking their picture in front of it. I know that’s what’s going to happen. The artist went to Howard so it was a HBCU project.

What is the legacy you want to leave for Stillman College?

Dr. Warrick will undoubtedly leave behind a lasting legacy that will impact the overall culture at Stillman College. She’s working on a number of projects that will not only impact the school but increase resources in the surrounding community. Current projects include restoring the oldest building on campus that was built in 1922 and was the first female dormitory. They are working on converting the building to apartments for senior citizens after securing a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to do the planning for that project. They are also converting the Shepherd Library, which is also a historical building, into a museum and digital learning center that will also highlight Stillman’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement

We want it to be educational and tell all of the history of Stillman and all of the people that have come through Stillman; the alums and other people that have really made an impact on the college. We’re a Christian school so we really want to see this kind of combining the arts. We have an amazing choir; so really trying to see how all these things fit within our culture, our mission and just really tying everything together. That’s our hope and then we just submitted a grant for a bio-medical research facility. I want Stillman in the community and the community at Stillman.

On Women’s Impact and her legacy beyond Stillman…

‘First’ and ‘only’ are commonplace terms when referring to Dr. Warrick’s notable career and current work. In short, she is a trailblazer, pioneer, mentor, and phenomenal leader of higher education, healthcare, and pharmacy. As a proud Bison, she recognized the call to do something great in the world like her fellow Howardite, Vice President Kamala Harris.  Since being at Stillman, Dr. Warrick has leveraged her vast network that extends to institutions all over the country. She has been able to infuse her background in pharmacy and the biomedical sciences to help rebuild the bio-medical program at Stillman by recruiting some dynamic professors. She is focused on building up the research program to develop an alternative source of revenue for the college as well as helping prepare students to make them more competitive for graduate and professional schools thereby increasing their competitiveness in the job market. She remains focused on the students and wants the best for them no matter where she is and says her job is to make people accountable to them. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we salute Dr. Warrick, for her contributions that are making a positive impact in her community and the nation.

It takes me back to when I was at Howard and when you graduate and you’re kind of like oh my all these people came before me and they made this amazing impact on the world and now you’re kind of like I’ve got to do something too. It puts the pressure on you to do something for the world to represent Howard, something significant. So that’s what you do, you don’t realize it while you’re there but while you’re there you start developing this network; you get exposed to so much, especially in Washington D.C. and then when you’re leaving you’re like oh my, I’ve got a responsibility now to be great. So when you see someone like our Madame Vice President it’s like we’re fulfilling our responsibility as Howardites, you’ve got to be great. That’s what we’re developed to be, we’re here to be great!