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Dr. Carolyn Stuart, BSC Alumna, Embraces Challenges and Opportunities as Director of Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs

  • Created
    Monday, February 24 2014
  • Created by
    Jim Nelson/Media Relations - (304) 327-4103

stewart dr carolyn(Bluefield)—Dr. Carolyn Stuart is a lifetime learner. The McDowell County native and Bluefield State College alumna accepted a gubernatorial appointment in 2012 to become the Executive Director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs. Each day, she draws from her life experiences as she embraces the challenges and service opportunities of her cabinet-level position.

"Throughout my life, I have been blessed to be in the company of good people," she said. She was one of a group of five to be the first African American students to attend Welch public schools. "Minnie Hansbury, a young African American teacher, was my first grade teacher," Dr. Stuart recalled. "She was so nice, and she was all I wanted to be when I grew up. She taught me that there are good people out there, and if you put yourself in the right position, good will come to you."

Her mother was a single parent and she worked hard to provide for her three daughters. "I finished the ninth grade, then earned a GED," Stuart continued. "Really, I didn't choose Bluefield State. . . .BSC chose me. I had no vehicle and very little money, so Bluefield State was my only option. I took the Trailways bus to campus every day and I had a hunger to learn. I knew that I was going into BSC as someone who was poor, but I didn't want to leave the college poor."

After enrolling in a respiratory therapy program that was soon discontinued, Dr. Stuart opted to major in social sciences. "Dr. John Taylor was my social science teacher. He and I had really good conversations, and thereafter I met Dr. Garrett Olmsted, a sociology professor. He really challenged us," she stated.

Her quest for knowledge continued after graduating from Bluefield State when she began work as a Licensed Social Worker with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. "I found out that DHHR would cover 80% of the cost of obtaining a master's degree, and I got a Master of Arts in Counseling from Marshall." Next, she obtained a fellowship that covered the cost of her doctoral experience and she earned a Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Virginia Tech. "The people I met throughout my life have always been willing to share their knowledge with me. When the Office of Minority Affairs was established and Governor Tomblin looked at the candidates, I had a background in substance abuse and mental health counseling, and I had moved forward from a GED to a Ph.D. I can talk to minorities and show them from my own experience that the cycle of poverty can be broken."

Her goals for the office include establishment of an Office of Minority Health to study and address health disparities among the state's minority populations. "We seek equity for health among all citizens of West Virginia," she stated. Currently, her office is working with researchers including BSC's Dr. Anthony Woart to launch a pilot project on healthy eating in West Virginia. Another initiative includes assisting minority entrepreneurs to have greater opportunities through the procurement process to land state contracts.

"Bluefield State College was a wonderful place for me," she summarized. "I was given the opportunity to achieve my dreams in an affordable, respectful way. The faculty in the 1970s really cared. They believed in me and went the extra mile to prepare me. I got a first rate education that was my foundation, equipping me to be successful at any institution of higher education."