Finding purpose

October 15th, 2019 Posted in From Our Alumni
Alumna Felecia Nave found leadership in academia the right choice for career

by Laurie B. Davis

After 25 years of being away from her home state of Mississippi, Dr. Felecia Nave has returned to lead her undergraduate alma mater, Alcorn State University. Her role as Alcorn’s president, she says, is something she never expected to do.

Felecia Nave (Eng ’01, ’05), who became the 20th President of Alcorn State University in Mississippi in 2019, did not originally aspire to a career of teaching and administration in higher education.

As an undergraduate at Alcorn State, a historically black college, she wanted to attend graduate school, and she did so at The University of Toledo, where she earned both her master’s degree in chemical and environmental engineering and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.  

“I absolutely did not want to teach,” says Nave. She comes from a family of educators, including her mother and aunts, who are teachers, and an uncle who was a professor at Alcorn. “I wanted to pursue a different career path than what I had traditionally seen around me — not because the people didn’t seem happy or didn’t seem fulfilled — but I was looking for something that was going to afford me a better economic opportunity. The STEM careers are what I felt were a pathway to that,” says Nave.

But midway through her chemical engineering program, she did an internship in which she was developing deodorant. “It was a good experience, and the work was good, but I didn’t find it was purposeful. I tried to make a joke out of it — that when I died, I didn’t want on my tombstone: ‘She made great deodorant.’ As necessary as it is, I didn’t think that was purposeful in life. So, at that point, I began to reconsider a career in the academy as an option.”

Dr. Felecia Nave and her husband, Tracie, and their four children, Jaylon, Justin, Kennedy and Jonathan, took a road trip to Toledo to see Felecia accept her Outstanding Alumna Award from the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Since completing her Ph.D. at UToledo, she has taught chemical engineering at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, and served in multiple administrative roles at that institution, including provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. She followed those roles as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at North Carolina Central University.

“I changed my strategy in terms of my professional development,” says Nave. “It turned out to be the right choice for me. I was able to do some very purposeful work and have the financial independence that I was seeking. People don’t always realize the leadership options that are available in the academy, beyond being a faculty member,” she adds.

Returning to her roots

Nave was born and raised in Prentiss, Miss., not far from Alcorn State in Lorman. “I grew up running around this campus even as a younger person,” says Nave, whose aunt and uncle lived on the campus. “It’s a place where you can grow, and people seem to naturally bond. A number of people who crossed my path and prepared me for life were graduates of Alcorn. They were able to impart knowledge and character in me as I was growing and developing as a youth,” says Nave.

Dr. Felecia Nave jokes around with a group of Alcorn students who join a photo opportunity with their new university president.

Nave also found support at UToledo through her professors, although being the only African-American female in the doctoral program could feel isolating, she says. “The faculty were supportive. There are those who went above and beyond, who were sure I was successful and I matriculated and graduated.”

This past spring, the Department of Chemical Engineering awarded Nave an Outstanding Alumna Award for her accomplishments. “It was not an award I was expecting. I was ecstatic that they viewed me that way,” says Nave. She and her husband, Tracie, and their four children, Jaylon, Justin, Kennedy and Jonathan, took a road trip to Toledo to see her accept her award.

“My husband and I have had these babies all along the way, and they are vitally important and a main point in my life story. I wanted them to see the end result of hard work and perseverance, that there is acknowledgment and celebration. When you try to move forward in your life in a positive way, people will recognize that. I wanted them to see that, so they could internalize it and use it as motivation throughout their own life,” says Nave. 

Nave says the biggest successes in her career so far are “being afforded the opportunity to lead my alma mater,” and being awarded full professor rank in chemical engineering at Prairie View A&M University. “Reaching that rank was a milestone,” says Nave, “and a pretty significant feat for me.”

Dr. Felecia Nave says what she loved about Alcorn State University as a student, is what she loves about it now. “I just see it through a different lens,” she says. “We are all part of a shared mission and direction. It’s a shared vision of helping prepare people to live their best life.”

Nave has come full circle, now that she leads Alcorn State University, where she graduated in 1996, cum laude on a full scholarship. Now that she’s back in her home state of Mississippi, she’s still enjoying some of her favorite things in life: her family, food and Gospel music.

As a mother, an educator and an academic leader, Nave has found being supportive of others in their aspirations a quality she hopes to pass on.

“I don’t feel like I got here on my own. In each station in my life, I’ve learned to not dwell on things that have not been perfect. I like to look at the beauty of each experience and what that did to make me a better person. I was very thankful for the role The University of Toledo played in helping me develop into what is the current product, but I’m not a finished product.”

As Nave continues to work closely with the Alcorn community of students, faculty, staff and alumni, her sights are set on new achievements, both personal and professional. Among all of her accomplishments so far, we can be certain that making great deodorant won’t be her lasting legacy.

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