An Atlanta Public Schools employee has been selected to serve as an ambassador to the White House as part of The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Lillian Harris, APS director of student support services, is one of 75 undergraduate, graduate and professional students enrolled at HBCUs across the United States who will form the inaugural class of HBCU All-Stars, a designation created by the Obama administration that identifies exceptional students who will serve as ambassadors for the White House initiative.
By promoting higher education and Initiative programs on their campuses, social media and at regional and national events, the ambassadors will help advance President Obama’s goal of ensuring that a greater percentage of African Americans complete college.
“Engaging with the next generation of leaders who will graduate from HBCUs and go on to make meaningful contributions to society is crucial to the success of our community, our country and our global competitiveness,” said Initiative Executive Director Dr. George Cooper.
Even as the wave of excitement swept through Harris’ home following the announcement, Harris remained calm.
“When I shared the news, everyone was very proud and excited – maybe even more than I was, because it took a while for it to sink in.”
That collected demeanor changed the moment Harris received her first Initiative directive – to participate in a conference call with Vice President Joe Biden. Unable to mask her nervous delight, Harris revealed, “I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about the call.”
Initiative officials reviewed nearly 500 applications before finalizing their selection. Harris’ community involvement and her history of academic and professional excellence made her application stand out.As a teenager enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools system,
her commitment to education compelled her to graduate from high school one year early. From there, she enrolled in Tennessee State University, and later earned her bachelor’s from Columbia College in Chicago. She continued her academic pursuits after relocating to Atlanta, graduating from Clark Atlanta University with a master’s degree in middle grades education, and she is currently completing the final stage of a doctoral program in educational leadership at CAU.
Increasingly, higher education circles are recognizing Harris’ contributions: the CAU faculty has invited her to present her work and speak at various university events, and Education Review recently published her review of Todd Whitaker’s book “What Great Teachers do Differently: 17 Things that Matter Most.”
Harris began her career at APS as a middle school science teacher, and was later promoted to assistant principal. Eventually, she assumed the role of director of student support services – a position that grants her oversight of the district’s counseling, student records, SST, social work, health and psychological services for students.
Working at APS has positioned her to give back to the community during her off time. Harris tutors at-risk students, connects them with resources, and even helps them apply to and enroll in post-secondary education programs.
Harris’ ambassadorship puts an APS employee and the national stage, and casts a positive light on the district. She will use the strategies and ideas exchanged through the Initiative as additional tools to help APS students become college- and career- ready.