Tashni-Ann Dubroy is not the type of woman to back down from a challenge.
The Rutgers MBA graduate lived up to the challenge at 18, when she immigrated to the United States from Jamaica, applied to a medley of colleges and was denied any scholarships and admission.
She lived up to the challenge when she instead applied, and then attended community college in New York City, and then transferred into Shaw University on scholarship in Raleigh, North Carolina. Years later, she would walk on the same campus grounds, except instead of being a student, she was president.
Since that time, Dubroy continued to walk up to various challenges. She attained her doctorate in chemistry, a field that, statistically, continues to report low numbers of women of color in the fields of science, technology, education and mathematics, especially in top-ranking institutions.
There were just eight tenured African American female professors among the top 100 chemistry departments in the United States in 2007, according to a study conducted by Marcy Towns, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. The numbers fell even more for Native Americans in the same data set — there was just one tenured Native American female professor.
“For every science discipline, the numbers of underrepresented women in each racial group compared with the total number of faculty is well below 1 percent and simultaneously much less than the percentage in the general population,” according to the study.
More recent numbers published in the National Science Foundation Survey of Doctorate Recipients in 2012 found that women of color constituted 2.3 percent of tenure or tenure-track faculty.
Broad data aside, Dubroy knows how women show up — or more accurately, fail to show up — in STEM fields.
She recalled seeing an overwhelming majority of men compared to women as she prepared to receive her doctoral degree in chemistry from North Carolina State University in 2007.
“I didn’t have any African American women PhDs who I could look up to as role models,” she said. “I had to depend on all white, male role models. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s something that is a reality.”
But being one of the few women in a male-dominated field never inhibited Dubroy.
For a few years, she worked as a chemist, analyst and manager at BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world.
She left BASF when she had to decide between pursuing a career in corporate chemistry and pursuing opportunities in entrepreneurship — and her passion for business won.
When she was at the business table at BASF, she was over her head, she said. She had no business experience, but she wanted to contribute to the discussion. So she took the first step to developing a sense of business savvy, and eventually enrolled in the Rutgers MBA program, where she chose to study marketing.
Today, Dubroy is the co-founder of the Brilliant & Beautiful Foundation, a non-profit organization that drives to support the aspirations of girls who dream of pursuing careers in science.
“I have reaped significant returns on my investment on my Rutgers MBA,” she said.
Next to the Brilliant & Beautiful Foundation, Dubroy operates two beauty enterprises, both of which largely focus on utilizing new technologies and Dubroy’s astute chemical knowledge to work with the hair of women of color.
But Dubroy’s main career is at Shaw, the oldest black university in the South. She is active on Twitter and tweets daily about Shaw, higher education and female empowerment. She occasionally tweets at other university presidents, such as Walter M. Kimbrough of Louisiana’s Dillard University, @HipHopPrez.
Just as Dubroy habitually tweets — she said she was the first president at Shaw to use social media — more university presidents are taking to using social media, and they are seeing the effects.
“It makes me approachable,” Clif Smart, president of Missouri State University, told the Eduventures Advisory Service for Higher Education Leaders. “I am no longer just the old bald guy sitting in the admin building.”
Dubroy said social media comes naturally to her, as she is part of the millennial generation, or the generation of individuals born between 1982 and 2002, according to Neil Howe and William Strauss, the two individuals who established time demarcations in their generational theory. She said she was also the youngest president hired at Shaw — she was hired on Aug. 1, 2015, and turned 35 a month later.
“I want to remain genuine to (my students) so they realize that I am a president but also a caregiver and professor,” Dubroy said. “By relating to them, it helps with retention. It certainly helps to have them engaged.”