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40 Over 40 Features | 2021

Dr. Krista Harrell – Forty Over Forty 2021

Dr. Krista Harrell
Photo by Devin Ford

Dr. Krista Harrell is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of South Alabama, where she has been for almost 9 years. She has worked in higher education for 18 years. Anyone who has met this spirited, fierce advocate for her students and loyal friend will not be surprised to hear that Dr. Harrell was once selected as “Queen of the Audience” at the Jimmy Kimmel Show on a trip to LA. Born in Huntington, NY and raised in Newport News, VA, Dr. Harrell is proud to call Mobile her home. She is also proud to have a lot of beloved nephews, nieces, and grand-nephews. 

What is your vision or hope for women in the Mobile and Gulf Coast communities? 

My hope for women in Mobile in our community is that we be elevated into leadership at senior levels in higher education, K-12 education, business, all levels and branches of government, non-profits, and community groups.

Are there any specific policies and/or laws you would like to see changed to advance women?

The tax on feminine products should be abolished. Immediately. Also, the food tax in Mobile is insanely high and disproportionately affects lower income individuals in a negative way.  

Dr. Krista Harrell
Photo by Devin Ford

What advice or suggestions can you give to women walking the path of empowerment or struggling with self-doubt? 

I would offer a few pieces of advice: Focus on your value, and remember there is literally no one else like you and the gifts and talents you bring to your relationships, your work, and your community. I strongly believe we have a responsibility to other women to mentor, sponsor, uplift, and empower each other. Think of every aspect of your life where a woman’s voice is missing, where a woman did not have a seat at the table, when a woman would be an excellent candidate for a job or a recognition, and make certain you do everything within your influence to bring other women along with you. Surround yourself with other women who will say your name in a room full of opportunities and be that woman for them.

Was there a moment for you that was a game changer, and can you tell us about it?

A game changing moment for me was giving a TedX talk, A Healed Heart Shares Much Love, about my experiences of love. It compelled me to honestly reflect on all the relationships in my life, find the beauty in the imperfection of love, and share the lessons I learned. I made a lot of peace in my heart and soul, and it allowed me to shed so much emotional weight I carried until that point.  

How important has education and/or continuing education been to you? 

Education and continuing education are extremely important to me. I am a first-generation college student and the first in my extended family to complete a doctorate. Though I did not have a path to follow, my family and friends have supported me as I have navigated three degrees, a career in higher education, and the desire I have chosen to be a life-long learner. My undergraduate degree in counseling taught me the value of active listening; my graduate degrees in higher education taught me how to best understand and navigate the university structure; and my experiences have taught me how to best support and advocate for my students and colleagues. Every experience I have had has brought me to where I am now. Life is not a ladder, but a jungle gym, and we go in the direction we find best at the time. 

Photo by Devin Ford

How important are relationships/networking to your personal and professional life?

Anyone who has ever met me knows immediately that people and relationships are the most important to me. I thrive on my connection to others, and I am blessed to have a tribe who brings joy to life. I never meet a stranger and am genuinely interested in the stories of those I meet. Anytime I can make a connection for others to help them, I am happy to do it. It is especially critical for women to extend outstretched hands to each other and make the introduction. Again, be surrounded by people who will say your name in a room full of opportunities. 

Do you have a mentor? Who are they and how have they helped you? 

Yes! I am grateful to the mentors throughout my life. They have guided me as I have navigated career decisions. cheered me on as I have embarked on opportunities, congratulated me as I have been recognized, encouraged my confidence when I felt like I was not yet ready, given me the honest feedback I needed to make change and move forward, and most importantly they have unselfishly shared their time with me. Special shout out to Dr. Don Stansberry, ODU President John Broderick, Dr. Dana Burnett, Dr. Dennis Gregory, Dr. Maggi Curry-Williams, Dr. Frances Lucas, Dr. Peggy Jablonski, Dr. Regina Young Hyatt, Dr. Mike Mitchell, Dr. John Taylor, and Dr. Nicole Carr. 

You seem to really love what you do, tell us why: 

I do love my work. It is a privilege to be invited into the lives of our students. Over the years, I have met thousands of students who have gone on to curate beautiful and successful lives all around the world and who are changing the world in bold and brilliant ways.  Working at a university keeps my spirit young and exposes me to new knowledge and experiences every day.  

“Think of every aspect of your life where a woman’s voice is missing, where a woman did not have a seat at the table, when a woman would be an excellent candidate for a job or a recognition, and make certain you do everything within your influence to bring other women along with you.”
Dr. Krista Harrell

How do you think professional environments need to change to support and/or be more welcoming to women?

Professional environments need to make certain that leadership is inclusive of women, especially BIPOC and LGBTQ+ women. It is critical to elevate women into decision-making positions in every field.

What/who inspires you? 

I am most inspired when I hear about people who have faced immeasurable challenges in their lives and share their stories honestly in hopes of healing themselves and others. I am also inspired by women who are unabashedly true to themselves in every situation. This doesn’t just come from confidence but from self-love.

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