Poverty, parents and mentors helped influence path of Dr. Georgia Hale

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 337 views 

Sitting at the end of a large conference table where Georgia Hale does most of her work a view of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith campus bell tower and the rapidly expanding campus appears. It is a picture of growth that brings to mind the demands and responsibilities borne by the provost of a university.

Dr. Georgia Hale is provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at UAFS. She has held that position since July 2014. Hale indeed holds a position of great importance. An online search of Hale reveals a long line of accomplishments and achievements. She is not comfortable talking about herself; however in spite of her hesitancy to draw attention to herself, she graciously consented to share some of the experiences of her life in hopes it may be an encouragement to others.

When being congratulated on her promotion she acknowledges that she did a lot of analyzing and praying before accepting the position.

“Opportunities that are offered are not always a good fit. It not only needed to be a good fit for me, but for the University as well,” she said.

She explained she had done a lot of role jumping in a short period of time, and she did not want to act too quickly. She had previously accepted the position of the dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology, a division she admits was out of her area of expertise.

“In that position I learned how to be a leader. I didn’t go into that position thinking I knew everything because it was obvious I did not. I had to trust those with the expertise and let them teach me.”

She said she took the primary task of getting to know the people, asking them to explain what they did and how they did it so she would have enough information to be an advocate for the department heads.

“I didn’t have to know everything, I just needed to ask.”

She emphasizes, “Never be afraid to ask, others will respect you if you ask and don’t assume or pretend to know about an area that you truly don’t understand.”

This was a position that took her the furthest away from what she was trained to do, and according to her it was the best position she ever had. She stayed in that position for five years and utilized the expertise of those around her. The experience she had with the College of Applied Science and Technology proved to her that she could be a leader. Stating that she had served as associate provost she had a good feel for what this position would entail and accepted the position.

“I haven’t done anything anyone else could not have done,” she said. “I have been fortunate to have great mentors, and I capitalized on those mentoring experiences. I would tell people to trust those who are willing to mentor them, be good critical thinkers and analyze the opportunities that come before you.”

She relates such an opportunity in her life. She was a junior in high school. The school had integrated her freshman year and instructors and students were talking about the ACT test and plans for college. She didn’t know about college as her parents had not gone beyond the 8th grade. They were not high school graduates, but there was never any question about her and her siblings graduating high school, but there had never been any discussion about college. She was hearing about things to which she had never been exposed. The superintendent of the school knew her mom, and he arranged to take her to college to view the campus and describe the college life.

“I never wanted to take advantage of people or disappoint them, and especially in those days when I had a white superintendent who took the time to mentor me.”

She clearly understood how rare and important that mentoring experience was, especially in the 1960’s.

“I grew up in poverty,” she says as a matter of fact, “but I took advantage of my mother’s teaching. My mother had taught me to read, write and do basic math before I entered grade school. She always told me I was smart and I knew from an early age I wanted to do something in the area of academics, so I majored in education. I knew if I became a teacher I would always be able to take care of myself and rise above the poverty level I experienced as a child.”

The superintendent who had taken her for her college visit gave her a job teaching junior high classes upon her graduation from college. In order to make additional money, she enrolled at Arkansas State University at night and worked on her master’s degree. While there, she made it known she would be interested in a teaching position if one became available. Soon the first African American who had been hired at ASU left and she was offered that position. She quickly realized she would always get the classes and schedule no one else wanted unless she completed her doctorate degree.

By now she was married and she and her husband moved so she could attend Arizona State University to complete her doctorate degree. It was during this time she and her husband divorced.

“I was raising a young daughter while attending graduate school which took a tremendous amount of time. I was very poor, and without family to fall back on it was extremely tough.”

She found a way to get through her situation by learning to rely on other people.

“I swallowed my pride and asked for help to take care of my daughter, because I knew we were headed for a better life.”

She doesn’t have any regrets about this time in their lives.

“My daughter grew up on campus, sometimes going to class with me, she met influential people and I exposed her to many opportunities she would not have gotten in a different setting. I was always honest with my daughter about being poor and that was alright, because my daughter knew we had to budget which made her a very responsible woman. I am very proud of the woman she is today. She has always understood the value of money because we always had to budget. This journey taught her patience. In order to have a better life in the future we often have to do without in the present.”

Hale has always had a very strong spiritual life. She says she has everything she needs and is content with what she has.

“If you always have to have more things then you are never satisfied. I have a strong prayer life and I want to be an encouragement to others. I can plan, but if it doesn’t work then I can lean back on my spiritual life and know it is alright. A job or career cannot be your life. One must take time to be inspired and to give back to God. It is okay to love your job, but you must also love people and have time to visit with family. It is important to have time to talk and visit with family and to get enough rest. Balance is extremely important in life. Don’t lose sight of the person you are, you don’t have to change who you are to be a success.”

Hale, who now oversees six colleges, has indeed come far from the economic conditions surrounding her childhood. The grace, intelligence, and  determination with which she utilized her critical thinking skills is a testament to this woman of character who has achieved much, lived life large and yet remains humble and true to her roots.