A single mom of two, a book editor, a psychologist and an advocate for diversity, the “talent management for faculty” at Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia does it all.
Senior Associate Dean of Franklin College Kecia Thomas manages faculty affairs and works with graduate students. She supports departments in selecting the best faculty available while sharing opportunities with them for recognition and promotion.
“Every day is different, but I never feel like I’ve gotten to a point of ‘been there done that,’ because there’s always something new to learn as the university evolves and changes,” Thomas said.
To add to Thomas’s long list of responsibilities, diversity within the university is her primary area of study. Thomas often works with organizations within UGA and other institutions in which she conducts a “climate for diversity study” and recommends ways to improve.
Thomas recently got the New Approaches Grant approved which is the collaboration with the College of Education.
“We have hosted what we call ‘Navigating STEM Retreats’ for underrepresented students. We bring in external speakers but also provide opportunities for the attendees to receive some coaching,” Thomas said.
Director of the Institute for Women's Studies and Professor in the College of Education Juanita Johnson-Bailey worked under Thomas for the grant and saw it through its “multi-layered application.”
Johnson-Bailey has known Thomas for 25 years. They first met when they were professors in the department of African American studies. Thomas became Johnson-Bailey’s boss when Thomas became associate dean and the department of women’s studies was put under her.
“Kecia has paved the way for so many people but at the same time, she's made way for other people. I have admired the way that she has been able to navigate the institution,” she said.
Johnson-Bailey said that Thomas came into the institution at a time where few women, especially women of color were employed in administration, but that Thomas made an impact and “infused diversity” into the college.
An unanticipated path
Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish from Bucknell University and her master’s degree and Ph.D. in industrial-organizational psychology from Pennsylvania State University.
“Having a liberal arts education has helped me to think beyond things at an individual level and an organizational level, and minoring in Spanish has helped tie me to issues surrounding culture,” Thomas said.
Thomas arrived at UGA in 1993 after a job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fell through due to the head of the CDC’s resignation, which left no money for her position. She then earned her dissertation, and her committee heavily encouraged her to consider an academic career.
“Accepting the position I was sure I’d only be here for a few years, but teaching ended up being much more fun than I thought it was going to be,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that although diversity at UGA has improved since she arrived, it hasn’t changed dramatically because those changes happen slowly and incrementally. Thomas said she wants UGA to think of more proactive ways to recruit underrepresented scholars.
“I would like to see the institution be more strategic and identify cluster-hiring initiatives that would attract a more racially-diverse pool of applicants,” Thomas said.
A role model for students and faculty
Associate Dean of Franklin College Martin Kagel has worked with Thomas for 12 years and often asks for her advice on faculty affairs or equal opportunity related issues.
“She’s been a role model for me because she models an attitude that I try to emulate in terms of how she interacts with faculty when they present her with challenges,” Kagel said.
Kagel said he is also impressed by the success of Thomas’s kids and Thomas’s involvement in her children’s academics. Thomas is a single mom of a daughter who is currently a freshman at Vanderbilt University and a son who just graduated from Morehouse College.
Kagel said he sees Thomas as a kind and empathetic leader, and Johnson-Bailey described her as a “brilliant scholar and a dedicated mentor.”
Thomas mentors graduate students every day on their research programs. She said that one of her most inspiring students had four kids while in graduate school. Two of her pregnancies coincided with Thomas’s.
“People always say that for women you must think strategically of when you have kids and go to school. You can’t let other people’s limitations, warnings, and fears get in the way,” she said.
Over the past 26 years, Thomas has been given many accolades in increasing diversity of underrepresented groups, she considers her biggest achievement to be getting conversations about diversity normalized and hear people use language that Thomas contributed like “privileged” and “diversity resistance” and “diversity ideologies.”
“To think that now this is how we talk about diversity is very gratifying to me.”