Alumni Spotlight – UI&U alumna takes on prestigious role at Tuskegee University

Welcome to the “Alumni Spotlight” monthly series. Learn how our Union Institute & University (UI&U) graduates are living the UI&U mission of engagement, enlightenment, and empowerment.

Carla JacksonFeatured this month: Dr. Carla Jackson Bell
Education: UI&U Ph.D. 2009
Profession: Educator

Dr. Carla Jackson Bell will assume her new role as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Tuskegee University, beginning January 3, 2020. She is currently dean of the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science (TSACS) at Tuskegee. Dr. Bell was asked to serve as interim provost by President Lily D. McNair, Tuskegee University’s eighth president and the first female president.

Dr. Bell is a trailblazer in the architectural field and one of the few tenured African American women architecture faculty in the country. “The architecture profession is a male-dominated profession. African American architects represent only 2 percent of all licensed architects and African American women represent approximately 0.2 percent,” said Dr. Bell. “There are only around 20 African Americans with a Ph.D. in architecture in the U.S.”

Q. You are passionate about teaching architecture. How did this love affair begin?

A. My journey began as a child. I would walk the Tuskegee campus with my father, who was also a Tuskegee University graduate, and the campus architect. We would walk the grounds and he would tell me about the historic buildings and the houses that he designed in the community. He was my inspiration. But I also had many educators in my family who served as role models. With their help, I found my passion – to teach architecture and mentor students.

Q. What do you want people to know about architecture?

A. Architecture is more than designing buildings and places. It is about understanding cultural relevance and designing better built environments. Architecture has the power to uplift the human condition and give form to society’s highest aspirations.

Q. When you started teaching, what surprised you the most?

A. The lack of diversity of women in the architecture profession. I could find only two articles about diversity in the profession when I started teaching at Tuskegee University in 1993. In my book, “Space Unveiled” I point out that African American architects have remained invisible in architecture history, theory, and practice. I advocate for the understanding of culture, gender, space and knowledge in design studios.

Q. As dean of TSACS, what is your goal for students?

A. I want my graduates to become citizen architects and builders – community leaders who go back to their neighborhoods and develop culturally relevant designs.

Q. What has your UI&U degree meant to you personally and professionally?

A. Union gave me my credentials. Union awarded me the highest university degree that is conferred after a course of study. I had to work very hard to get my degree in a non-traditional way. I was a single mom with two children. I had to find a school that was flexible and would accommodate my work schedule. Union did that. Union helped me become a learner and ultimately a leader. I remember my committee chair, Professor Lena Pruitt, insisting that I edit my dissertation over and over again. But that ultimately broadened my research capabilities. I was able to select my dissertation committee. I chose the best of the best, professors from, of course UI&U, MIT, Harvard, Yale, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a truly diverse committee.

Q. If you could give advice to a Union student, what would it be?

A. Don’t rush your educational pursuit. Please don’t put a timeline on your studies. Just gain all the knowledge that you can and be passionate about your dissertation topic. Advocate for the right people on your committee who are nationally recognized. It is hard to get nationally recognized scholars to commit to being on your committee but it can be done. I did it!

Q. What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

A. Professionally, I have led the TSACS construction program to the first-ever accreditation since its inception in 1893, no easy feat. I am also very proud of the leadership positions I have held. At Auburn University, I was the Director of Multicultural Affairs in the College of Architecture, Design, and Construction where I spearheaded the growth of the minority representation from 8 percent to 18 percent in ten years. Being dean of TSACS has been rewarding and now I am embarking on the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs position that will be my greatest challenge to date. I’ve been known as “the fixer” because of my ability to problem-solve and effectively negotiate among parties in a short timeframe.

More importantly, I am married to a wonderful man (Roger L. Bell) who totally supports me. And, my sons (Nicholas and Cameron) and grandson (Malik) are the joys of my life.

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