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2021 National Women's History Month Honorees

Lisa Holland-Davis

Dr. Holland-Davis has taught sociology and criminal justice classes at Clayton State since 2009. She is currently an associate professor of sociology and interim director of the Partnering Academics and Community Engagement (PACE) program. In addition, she has served as the chair of the Department of

Social Sciences and director of the short-lived Center for Community and Justice Studies. Her research focuses on the impact of the social structure on individual behavior and legal responses to crime. Dr. Holland-Davis is originally from Central Florida and earned her PhD in Sociology from the University of Florida. Go Gators! Most weekends, you will find her and her husband on the baseball diamond, cheering on their two sons. She has even parlayed her love of baseball into a new research project on race and youth sports participation.


With age comes experience and perspective, so I have two pieces of advice for my younger self: 1) asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength; 2) if you wait for something to be perfect, it will never get done.

Devona Smikle

Devona Smikle is a Human Resource Professional originating from Kingston, Jamaica. She currently works as a Recruiting Manager for Bojangles and is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated. During her years at Clayton State, Devona served in many student organizations through volunteerism and leadership as well as served as the FSC Graduate Assistant for the Department of Campus Life. Devona lives by the following quote: "A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work." -Colin Powell.

Devona holds a B.B.A in Management, with a minor in Marketing and Entrepreneurship & Innovation as well as an M.B.A in Human Resource Leadership from Clayton State University.

If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

Be unapologetically you. I feel as if in the past, I took things too personally and other people's thoughts mattered to me. As I got older, I realized that what someone thinks of me has nothing to do with me and is none of my business.

Zhareira Smith

Greetings Laker Nation! My name is Zhareia Smith and I and a senior, majoring in Marketing with a minor in Psychology. I am from the small town of Forsyth, Ga where I was born and raised. After graduating from Mary Persons High School, I left to pursue a career in the GA Army National Guard. In spite of my military obligations, I have made it my mission to obtain my degree and give back to the community that made me the woman I am today. I currently hold the title as Miss Clayton State University, and I am the Engagement Assistant for University Housing and Residence Life as well as holding various  positions in different student organizations on campus. 

If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, it would be to never doubt your abilities, and to be your own biggest fan. Sometimes being proud of yourself means more than seeking the validation of others. 

Shamia Harley

Being a young girl from Atlantic City, New Jersey and growing up in the projects, I had to deal with my own adversities; just like many women before me.  As a child to a single parent with an 8th grade education, the role model of who I am and what I would become wasn’t exactly clear for me. This was my time in my own valley. My valley was deeper than some while being a woman of color. So, who am I? I am a woman, I am mother, I am a daughter and a sister, but most importantly, I am trailblazer for many women to come after me. I hold a GED and have been in rooms with those more educated, but not nearly as smart. Titles for positions that I have held are Area Manager, General Manager, and currently the Food Service Director for Clayton State University. I am Shamia Harley, and I am a WOMAN!

The advice that I would give to my younger self is that “Life is about peaks and valleys, regardless of the landscape YOU must enjoy the journey.” It’s so easy to enjoy the peaks when all is well with the world, but the growth comes from being in the valleys. These are the moments you create opportunities where there are none; where you break through the window, knock down the locked door because you weren’t handed a KEY.

Brenda Carr

Brenda Carr currently serves as the Executive Secretary in the Office of the President. She began her career at Clayton State as an Evening Secretary in the (former) School of Technology. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in English from Georgia Southern College (now University) and completed her Master of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Clayton State. Brenda is married and the mother of four children. She also has a twin sister. Her hobbies and interests include going to estate sales, thrifting, writing, photography, and cooking.


Advice to Younger Self:

Don’t let fear paralyze you. You will not want to live your latter years with the regrets of “What If…” Be kind. You do not want to live life with haunting thoughts of how you have mistreated others. Value others. Don’t discount others with whom you disagree. You can profoundly disagree with a person on varying perspectives and still learn from them. There is a way to disagree without being, or becoming, disagreeable— while still staying true to your values. The truth is important. There are many voices in the world. If your beliefs are based on truth, be confident about what you believe, but be willing to understand others. Trust and have faith in God, for with God all things are possible. Remember that Jesus is your best Friend. No matter how things look, if the Bible is true, all things are working for your good. Don’t worry. You have so many opportunities. Don’t squander them. Don’t discount positive ways (to achieve your dreams) that you do not understand.

Shontelle Thrash

Professor Shontelle Thrash is the Director of Theatre and Professor of Theatre and Communication at Clayton State University. She has performed nationally and internationally. From Shanghai, China to New York, her body of work spans over 25 years. She has directed plays and other works across the US as well as here in Atlanta; and often combines theatre with film. Directing credits include Alzheimer’s Daughter (tv), Letter to Miema (music video), and several shorts and theatre productions at Clayton State University. Recently, she directed a short on Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Shontelle is the recipient of the University Professorship award; an award given for having a significant contribution to enhancing and innovating teaching and learning at Clayton State University through teaching, service, creative activity and/or scholarly attainment. She initiated and helped establish the Creative Careers Job Fair within her department of Visual and Performing Arts. She is one of the founding members of the department’s working group on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Shontelle is also an accomplished film, television, voiceover and commercial artist. She is the producer and creator of the Artists Showcase of Atlanta where she enhances the development of artists creatively and professionally.


What advice would I give to my younger self?

Allow time to enjoy the journey. Find balance between your personal life and your career. Both are important.

LaKizzy T. Carson

LaKizzy T Carson is a first- generation college graduate. She began her journey at Essex County College where she earned and graduated from the Police Academy in 2000. After meeting her husband and having children, she returned back to school. Clayton State University is where she received her undergraduate degree in Health Science with a minor in Criminal Justice in May 2020. During her studies, she became a member of NSLS (The National Society of Leadership and Success) where she holds the seat as President. Continuing her education to achieve her Master Degree as a Healthcare administrator she works part- time at the SAC (Student Activities Center). LaKizzy’s aspirations are to assist in the well- being of others through hard work and integrity. As a wife and mother LaKizzy aims to instill her Christian beliefs and values into everything she does to promote empathy and compassion.

What I would tell my younger self; “Never stop believing push your limits and continue to be a source of confidence and comfort for others. You may go through hurdles, it may get rough or uncomfortable but through prayer, dedication and sacrifice He will see you through to the other side”?

Gabriela Lopez

Gabriela Lopez is a Junior currently majoring in Film Production and minoring in Marketing with hopes of becoming a Director one day. As the first generation in her family to almost finish college, Gabriela chooses to spend much of her time making sure her family is proud of the hard work and sacrifices she's made during her undergraduate years, especially with the difficulties that the pandemic has brought. She loves being involved on campus and around her community, never hesitating to assist others when in need of help.

If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

"Patience. Everything doesn't come when you want it to, and that's just the reality. Worry about how to get to the destination you want, not what time you'll get there. It's frustrating sometimes, but when the blessings start coming in, the feeling is very rewarding."

Jill Lane

Jill Lane is the Associate Provost at Clayton State University. She has more than twenty-seven years of experience working in the areas of curriculum development, assessment, and evaluation in higher education. She has conducted various workshops on teaching and assessment methods at universities and at international conferences. Dr. Lane is currently the principal investigator on a $6.3 million dollar Predominantly Black Institution grant from the US Department of Education and has also been a co-principal investigator and an external evaluator on several successful NSF grant proposals. She is also a co-recipient of the 2006 Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Teaching Innovation Award and a co-recipient of the 2005 American Society of Engineering Education Mechanics Division's Best Paper Award, Best Session Award, and Best Overall Presentation Award. Dr. Lane was the invited keynote speaker at the 2007 International Conference on Foreign Language Teaching and Learning in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Dr. Lane holds a Doctorate of Education in Instructional Systems from Penn State, a Master's of Education in Computing in Education from Rosemont College, and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education from Penn State. Her research centers on the sustainability of innovations in education.  

Advice to My Younger Self:

Always stay open to the possibilities that life has to offer because you never know where a path might lead.

Shelby Hatcher

I have been a police officer for 4.5 years and have worked within the University System of Georgia for 5.5 years. 2022 is going to be a big year for me because I plan on graduating with my PhD in Criminology in May, and I am getting married the following October. On my off time, I race sailboats competitively. I love policing, teaching, and sharing my passion about the law and sailing with others. 

If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be to make more time for my hobbies and self. 2020 taught me a lot about self-care and making myself a priority, for when I am my best self, I can be my best at work and help others.

Celeste Walley-Jean

J. Celeste Walley-Jean is the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies & Inclusive Engagement and Professor of Psychology at Clayton State University. When appointed to her role as dean in 2018, she became the first African American woman to serve as dean at Clayton State. In her role, she works collaboratively with the college deans and other campus units to provide leadership and support for the School of Graduate Studies and to promote inclusiveness and engagement for faculty, staff, and students in Academic Affairs. A native of Mississippi, she received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi. Celeste has worked in higher education for 16 years. Prior to her current role, she was Director of the Master of Clinical/Counseling Psychology program at Clayton State University.

To address the question, “If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be?” I would say to my younger self, know your worth. You have skills and talents that are valuable. You have a commitment to working to leave things better than you found them, and a passion for seeking the best in and for others, especially African Americans. Those characteristics are an asset to any organization. Walk in and always be true to your authentic self.

Raluca Pavel

My name is Raluca Pavel, and is currently a 2nd-year Ph.D. Student at Loyola University Chicago, studying International Relations and Comparative Politics. After her years at Clayton State University, where she was a student-athlete and completed my undergraduate and graduate education, she started getting involved in state and local politics in Georgia. While working and volunteering on political campaigns and being actively involved with several political organizations, she decided to re-enter the academic world. Her work in politics taught me so much about the needs of our communities and the flaws of our governmental systems. She is now able to study the ways in which we can strengthen democratic practices at the local level and make our governments work for us. Living in Chicago gives me plenty of opportunities to continue staying involved, just as she did when she lived in Georgia. She strongly believes that it does not matter where you live, you can always make a difference in your community. 

The advice I would give myself is: have patience with learning, good things take time, and be more confident when you enter new spaces

Asia Hauter

Asia L. Hauter joined Clayton State University as assistant vice president of Marketing and Communications in May 2019. In her role, she is responsible for advancing the mission of the institution through strategic marketing and integrated communications efforts focused on building the university’s reputation, image and brand identity. She most recently served as director of Public Relations at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, communications manager at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and assistant director of public relations at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Hauter holds a B.A. in mass media arts/public relations from Hampton University and an M.B.A. in marketing management from St. John’s University. She will obtain her Master of Strategic Leadership Development degree from Clayton State University in May 2021.

Response to posed question, If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?:

I would tell my younger self to travel more and explore the world. Participate in study abroad programs, visit a new country whenever you get the chance and be more open to new experiences. Although I’ve spent most of my life in the melting pot of New York City, being immersed in a different culture is exhilarating. The unique languages, foods, environments, even smells, gives you an appreciation for the people that make up this vast world and reminds you how truly blessed we are to be a part of it.

Melody Carter

Dr. Carter serves Clayton State University as Special Assistant to the President, Chief Sponsored Research and Programs Officer.  In this capacity, she provides institutional support by identifying external funding opportunities to further enhance academic programs and resources.  Previously, she served as Vice President for External Affairs and Executive Director of the FVSU Foundation, Inc. at Fort Valley State University.  As the university’s chief advancement and development officer, she oversaw the administration of sponsored programs representing more than 52 million dollars in multi-year external funding.  A champion of U. S. Department of Education TRiO projects, earlier in her career, Dr. Carter led Talent Search and Upward Bound programs at Canisius College and Buffalo State College, respectively.  She also taught research methodology to undergraduates preparing for graduate school through the Ronald McNair Post baccalaureate program also at Buffalo State College.   Dr. Carter’s expertise also includes scholarly research in the field of social and cultural foundations of education. To this end, she has refereed-published research on African American women’s access to college in the United States and on their experiences and statuses in college as undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members and administrators. Additionally, her published research has addressed students’ perceptions of institutional caring as a factor of retention; and variables effecting student attrition. Guiding her work is an abiding commitment to serve historically underrepresented youth who aspire to pursue and complete postsecondary schooling.   Dr. Carter is the recipient of various professional and community service awards, and member of civic organizations to include Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and The Links, Incorporated.  A native of Buffalo, New York, Dr. Carter earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Science degree in student personnel administration at Buffalo State College. Her Ph.D. in sociology of education, with a concentration in higher educational leadership and policy was awarded by the State University of New York at Buffalo.  

If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be to find out what I truly love to do then invest in myself to realize that discovery. 

Rachel Gaines

Rachel is a graduate student here at Clayton State University, pursuing a master’s degree in Strategic Leadership Development. She attended Athens Technical College and Tennessee State University before coming to Clayton State as an undergraduate student. Rachel is currently earning her second master’s degree from Clayton State University. She currently holds Associate degrees in Business Management and Network Communications, Bachelor of Applied Science in Administrative Management, and Master of Business Administration with concentrations in Human Resources Leadership and International Business.

Rachel is an active member of several organizations on campus and in the community. Rachel is the President of Clayton State Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Secretary of the Student Government Association, the Treasurer for College of Business Student Advisory Board, Beta Gamma Sigma (international business honor society for AACSB-accredited schools), the National Society of Leadership and Success, and Zeta Phi Beta Phi Chi Zeta Graduate chapter. Besides her involvement in student organizations, Rachel also works as a Teaching Assistant under the Graduate Assistantship program with Dr. Vinod Vincent while developing her academic presence through research presentations. Her dream is to pursue a doctorate in business following fall graduation and to inspire others. Rachel is the proud mother of two children, Tyquesha and Larrente.

“If I could give my younger self any advice, the conversation would start with ‘be fearless.’ Be curious. Try new things. Strive for that which will not hinder you from learning something new and sharing with others. Never give up or stop dreaming!”

Lisa Eichelberger

Dr. Eichelberger holds a masters and Ph.D. from the University of Alabama-Birmingham and is a graduate of The Wharton Business School executive leadership program. She has held a variety of leadership positions, including over twenty years as a chief nursing officer. Dr. Eichelberger now serves as Dean and Professor of the College of Health at Clayton State University, where she directs multiple health-related programs with a long history of educating health care leaders. Dr. Eichelberger serves as Co-lead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Action Coalition in Georgia, Georgia’s Director of the Nurse on Boards national initiative to place 10,000 nurses on health-related boards and chairs the Nursing Workforce Data Advisory Committee for the Georgia Board of Nursing and Georgia Board of Healthcare Workforce.

Dr. Eichelberger co-founded Georgians United for Healthcare in 2020 and serves as the first and only nurse on the Board of Trustees of Southern Regional Medical Center, Riverdale, GA. She has received multiple awards for her leadership efforts, including named a “Visionary Leader” by her alma mater, the UAB School of Nursing. She was appointed to US Congresswomen Carolyn Bourdeaux’s Nursing Roundtable Advisory Committee in January, 2021 and working with the newly re-instituted White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Engagement on COVID relief, systemic racism, and environmental issues.

My advice to my younger self would be To never cease to be surprised by life.  It won’t turn out the way you planned, but that’s ok. To dream big. The goals you had for yourself were way too small, so think bigger. The world is such a remarkable place, and people are so incredibly good. Explore it all. Never cease to be amazed and never stop learning from others. Even if you don’t agree with someone, listen to them and try to see their perspective. Seek first to understand. For from that understanding comes true wisdom. Laugh often and love much.  And don’t spend time with people who don’t make you laugh. 

Alexis Shoats

Alexis received her Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Clayton State University. Her passion has always been to be a proponent in creating change for the black community, communities of color, and historically marginalized groups. After receiving her bachelor's degree she decided to intern for Stacey Abrams Gubernatorial campaign, and soon found herself working full time as an organizer with the Democratic Party of Georgia. In this role, she worked alongside different communities and grassroots organizations to get out the vote for Stacey Abrams and down ballot candidates. 

After witnessing firsthand the results of this campaign, Alexis decided to continue working on campaigns and elections because she believed in the potential of Georgia, and the power of creating a better democracy that worked for every citizen. She worked as the Field Director and Volunteer Coordinator for Judge Vincent Crawford's Superior Court race in DeKalb County. After this campaign, she went on to work on Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock's historic U.S. Senate campaign. She worked on his campaign for 8 months beginning as a Regional Organizing Director and Out of State Director. In these two roles she co-lead a team of in- state organizers and built an effective out of state program. Once the race went to a runoff she was tapped to be the Digital Fundraising Manager, creating a grassroots fundraising program that would raise over 2.5 million dollars for the campaign.

Since the success of the campaign, Alexis has been continuing her efforts to make the systems of our country work for each citizen by focusing on her non-profit organization Minority Resource Inc. Her organization was established to create solutions to issues that have disproportionately affected historically marginalized communities. 

Advice to my younger self: Stay humble and just go for it! 

Erin Pettigrew

My name is Erin Pettigrew I am a Senior at CSU, Majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Forensic Science. I have attended Clayton State since Summer of 2018 and I am currently finishing my third and final year at Clayton State. I am currently involved in multiple organizations on campus such as NAACP (Vice President), Laker Orientation Leader (Team Lead), and I am the President of the CSU Campus Event Council. Upon graduating, I would like to work in the field of Social Justice, helping pave way for change in the injustices occurring in my community.

If I could give any advice to my younger self it would be “No matter what others say, never let it bring you down or change you. Always be true to you.  Continue to be who you set yourself up to be, never allow others to change you or detour you from your goals. Your future is bright, make it the best you can.

Polly Parks

Polly K. Parks, originally from Michigan, received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Georgia. Polly has a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Health Administration from Georgia State University. Prior to joining Clayton State University in 2013 as the Director of Health Services, Polly spent nearly 20 years with Gwinnett Hospital System as an Assistant Vice President of Operations, Medical Staff Administrator and Night Administrator. She later worked for Emory Healthcare for five years as a Senior Administrator. Polly is the proud mother of Andrew Dorminey (UGA Class of 2019, BBA Accounting) and Mikayla Dorminey (UGA Class of 2021, BS Pre-Med Biology),  Polly is a huge UGA fan and enjoys spending time with her children, playing the saxophone, gardening, and caring for her for five rescue pets.

If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be to never settle...ever! While I enjoyed a very successful career as a hospital administrator, I always regretted not going to medical school after my father became ill while I was finishing my pre-med degree in Athens. The administrative side of the professional is very rewarding but I always dreamed of being a physician ever since I was a little girl. Personally, as well, if I had it to do over again, I would have relocated back to Michigan to raise my children closer to my family. Never settle for anything less than what will bring you the most happiness, peace and success.

Kaleena Coleman

Named the seventh permanent head coach in program history on March 9, 2015 after serving a season in the interim role, Coleman has been a fixture in Laker women's basketball for the past 16 years, as both a player and a coach, and has been a part of the most successful period in the program's history. 

During her more than a decade in Morrow, Georgia as a player and assistant, she has helped guide the Lakers to 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (2004-14) and 11 overall, four South Atlantic/Southeast Region titles with matching trips to the Elite 8 (2007, 2009, 2011, 2013) and the 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship. That stretch has also included 17 NCAA Tournament victories, seven PBC regular season titles (2005, 2007, 2008, 2011-14) and three tournament championships (2005, 2007, 2010).

Coleman is currently the only former women’s basketball player to lead her alma mater as head coach of the program. After two years at Darton College, where she was named the team’s Most Improved Player, Coleman came to Clayton State and was a two-year member of the women's basketball team from 2003-05.

During that time, she played in 56 games, and was part of the 2004-05 team that went a then program record 25-7. That squad also earned the Lakers their first ever NCAA Division II Tournament berth, the first Peach Belt Conference Regular Season and Tournament Championships and delivered the second biggest turnaround in DII, improving from just 10-18 the year before.

Sonya Gaither

Since the third grade, I have always known I wanted to be a teacher. I discovered I could teach in a library. I followed the footsteps of both my uncle and godfather who were library directors. Little did I know that one day I would become the first African-American Dean of Libraries at Clayton State University. My dreams were made real on March 1, 2019 after serving as the first African-American Director of Library Services at Gordon State College for nearly five years. Prior to Gordon State, I held numerous academic library positions at Georgia Southern University. Based on my unique skill set and education, my initial position and subsequent positons at Georgia Southern were created just for me. I have worked in the University System of Georgia for 26 years since January 1995. I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics from LaGrange College (1993). I earned my Master of Science degree in Library Services from Clark Atlanta University (1995). In 2003, I received my Doctor of Education degree in Educational Administration from Georgia Southern University. In addition, in December 2019, I obtained a certificate in Change Leadership from Cornell University. I have served on numerous professional and social/service organizations. I represent the Clayton State University Library on the Friends of Georgia Libraries (FOGL) Board of Directors, the Regents Academic Council on Libraries (RACL), and the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education (ARCHE) Library Council. I will become the President for the Rotary Club of Lake Spivey Clayton County in July 2021 as well as a member of the Board of Directors for LaGrange College. I am a Lifetime Member and Silver Star of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I am a native Atlantan, an original Georgia Peach. I love spending time with my fur baby Gizmo, my family, and friends.

If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be and why :

I would tell my younger self to question and research everything. I would also tell myself do not be afraid to stretch and to never give up because your breakthrough may be closer than you think. The journey will not always be easy but push anyway. You do not have to walk with a big stick. You can walk softly to accomplish your goals but no man is an island. Surround yourself with a true support system that will continuously love and encourage you beyond your comfort zone. Collaborate with others. Enjoy your life. Do not settle for right now or just enough because there is always more. More to love. More to learn. More to do. More see. More to give. To whom much is given, much is required.