Inspiring Black Alumni on Work and Wisdom

February 9, 2021

As MBU celebrates Black history this month, 13 distinguished Black alumni describe what they love most about their current careers and reflect on how their time at Mary Baldwin shaped their lives. 

Tapping into experiences and expertise, they also share words of wisdom for current MBU students as they pursue their own college journey and look to the future.

Animated photos of inspiring Black alumni from Mary Baldwin University

Pamela Anderson ’84

Physical therapist 

Over the course of her career, Pamela Anderson ’84 has practiced physical therapy (PT) in outpatient orthopedic, pediatric, and sports medicine settings as well as in skilled nursing facilities. She’s currently specializing in pelvic health PT, helping women benefit from alternative options to surgical interventions and medication.

“I help women recover from illness and diagnoses isolated to areas of the body that most of us have been afraid to talk about,” she said. “Some have suffered years with very little hope for recovery and think ‘this is just what happens as we age.’”

Anderson’s interest in the field was sparked during May Term at Mary Baldwin when she spent time observing medical professionals and volunteering in several departments at a local hospital. 

“I found I really connected with PT,” she remembers. “Physical therapists are able to make changes and differences in patients’ lives, and see the recovery process through to fruition.”  

“Soak it all in, have fun, and know that every experience lays a foundation and prepares you for life in the diverse world you will encounter upon graduation.”
— Words of wisdom from
Pamela Anderson ’84

Lynnette Daughtry Barrett ’02

University administrator and pastor

The Rev. Lynnette Daughtry Barrett ’02 is both an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an administrator at the University of South Florida. 

“I had such a wonderful experience at Mary Baldwin and can name so many administrators that changed my life — shout out to Edward and Andrea Scott,” she said. “I always wanted to bring the small college feel to a large university.”

Barrett has found her true calling and purpose in ministry, preaching on Sundays, teaching Bible study, and helping to spearhead community outreach programs.

“It makes my spirit soar, and I feel so free to be able to help others and minister to hurting people,” she said. 

Barrett credits Mary Baldwin for developing her leadership, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. 

“I’m comfortable in any room I’m in,” she said. “I’m comfortable speaking up and making my voice heard. All of this is because of all of the wonderful leadership opportunities I had during my time at Mary Baldwin.”

“Be present! Your time at Mary Baldwin will go by very fast. Take advantage of every opportunity you can, and enjoy your time with your friends because they will be your lifelong friends.”
— Words of wisdom from
Lynnette Daughtry Barrett ’02

Casey Brent ’02

Public servant

For the past decade, Casey Brent ’02 has worked in politics as a Maryland public servant in economic development for two mayors and in the energy sector for a governor. 

After transitioning back to the private sector as director of administration and corporate responsibility for a civil construction company, Brent was recently tapped for another opportunity to serve Baltimore’s newly elected mayor as chair of the transition committee focused on rethinking governmental operations.   

“Throughout my career, I’ve been in a unique position where I was able to hone my love of public service, establishing a reputation for creating innovative and long-lasting initiatives for Maryland residents,” she said.  

Brent grew up surrounded by many strong women in her family, and she found a similar community at Mary Baldwin of ambitious and resilient women among her peers and the faculty and staff who became her mentors. 

“Seeing these women move through their careers with ease and confidence even while making sacrifices — paired with the amazing liberal arts education that I received — allowed me to remain courageous as I took on tasks that many would shy away from,” she said.

“Stay the course, but stay flexible. I graduated with a degree in art history and anthropology, but it took years before I was able to actually use it. Funnily enough it was how I got into politics. Success is not a straight line.”
— Words of wisdom from
Casey Brent ’02

Tonquise “TQ” Evans ’03

Chief diversity officer and entrepreneur 

Serving as the chief officer of diversity and inclusion for Florida-based advertising technology company Mediavine, Tonquise “TQ” Evans ’03 is one of the highest ranked employees at the company and the only Black woman at the leadership table. 

“My job is to make sure that we are creating a work environment where everyone feels welcomed and included, regardless of their background,” Evans said. “Knowing that I am helping people in this way brings me so much joy and fulfillment in my work.”  

In addition to working full time, Evans is a birth doula and the inventor of a post-pregnancy legging called Prende Pants that combines belly-wrapping traditions and modern design to support women’s bodies after giving birth.

A communications major who studied abroad in Japan, she learned at Mary Baldwin the value of interacting with unfamiliar people, communities, and concepts, as well as the importance of women supporting women. 

“My MBU education gave me the confidence to boldly walk into male-dominated environments as my authentic self,” she said. “I have a strong sense of responsibility in bettering the world around me, and I owe so much of that to my time and friendships at MBU.” 

“Invest in opportunities of empathy. One thing that I’ve learned as an adult is that empathy is in short supply and those that have it are in high demand.”
— Words of wisdom from
Tonquise “TQ” Evans ’03

Elizabeth G. Hill ’03, DMA

Concert pianist and educator 

Based in Washington, DC, pianist Elizabeth G. Hill ’03 specializes in chamber music, primarily performing with two ensembles. The clarinet and piano duo Meraki strives to awaken cultural compassion through music, and the contemporary classical Balance Campaign focuses on performing new works by composers who are people of color, women, and LGBTQ+. 

“I’m drawn to the power of storytelling through music,” she said. “My mission revolves around using music to speak for those who have been silenced, and for those who are underrepresented.” 

Also an educator, Hill teaches about 30 private students about the language and power of music.

Hill started college early through MBU’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, and relished taking classes in many different areas of study including biochemistry, religion, film studies, sociology, and more. 

“Not everything interested me,” she said, “but I think the broad perspective later helped me narrow my focus and tap into finding my identity in the classical music world.” 

“As you’re looking forward, don’t be afraid to pave your own way. Continue to bring uniqueness into your field, and be mindful of how your efforts might help or encourage others behind you.”
— Words of wisdom from
Elizabeth G. Hill ’03

LaRae Johnson ’11

Captain in the United States Air Force

Stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, LaRae Johnson ’11 is assigned to one of the most important missions of the U.S. Air Force. She serves as an instructor for nuclear missile operations, preparing incoming lieutenants to be competent and proficient nuclear operators.

“This opportunity is my favorite assignment yet,” Johnson said, “because I have the chance to make an impact by mentoring and educating new Air Force officers on what it means to be an airman, an operator, and a leader.” 

The operators she helps train are then responsible for the secure monitoring of Minuteman III nuclear missiles — a position Johnson herself also previously held — at one of the three primary bases in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. 

As part of leadership organizations on campus including the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership and the Ida B. Wells community, Johnson learned how important it is to draw from others’ experiences and knowledge.  

“My experiences at MBU taught me we should celebrate our differences and realize that everyone has something unique to bring to the table,” she said.  

“Dreams change! The future doesn’t always look the way we imagined it. Sometimes, we have to be flexible with what it is we want to do with our lives.”
— Words of wisdom from
LaRae Johnson ’11

Jeniece Lusk ’05, PhD

Assistant professor of sociology abroad

Jeniece Lusk ’05 serves as an assistant professor of sociology at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Her research focus is currently centered on Blaxit (trends regarding Black Americans emigrating from the United States) and global anti-blackness.

“My favorite thing about being an academic is being able to work with people that I really admire, doing important research, and talking to young people about social inequality, discrimination, and racism,” she said. “My favorite thing about being a Black, expatriate academic is that I am able to engage in this research and teaching on a global scale.”

Lusk credits Mary Baldwin with providing the personal support, mentorship, and friendships that shaped her career. 

“I wouldn’t have considered going to graduate school without the urging of Dr. Carey Usher and support of Dr. Martha Walker,” she said. “And I still thrive on the many friends I made during my undergraduate career — shout out to the class of 2005 (who I entered with) and the class of 2004 (who I was lucky to graduate with)!” 

“Become active in creating and fighting for change — in every research project, paper, and presentation — and to maintain or increase that momentum once you graduate.”
— Words of wisdom from
Jeniece Lusk ’05  

Amanda Lynch ’02

Expert in mindfulness and trauma-informed education

Educator, author, speaker, and yogi Amanda Lynch ’02 works as the trauma-informed education specialist for Greater Richmond Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond. She also owns Rethinking Resiliency and Breathe, Baby, Breathe Press — providing trauma-responsive workshops and books to the community. 

“The things I love most are growing mindfulness in Black and brown communities,” she said. “I’m super passionate about guiding others toward the principles of self-healing through mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.”

The most meaningful part of Lynch’s MBU experience were the friendships and mentorships that she developed during her time on campus. 

“Not a day goes by that I don’t connect with a Baldwin alum,” she said. “I would say to students stay connected and create a circle of support within MBU.”

“Carve your own path. The possibilities are endless. Trust your inner voice and don’t let others define who you are. Always remember that you write your own story.”
— Words of wisdom from
Amanda Lynch ’02

Donté Montague MAT ’15

Elementary school teacher

As an educator in Staunton City Schools, Donté Montague MAT ’15 helps young people develop their love of learning, their sense of determination through adversity, and their ability to give their best effort every day. 

“What I love most about my classroom is seeing my students grow academically, socially, and intellectually,” he said. “I’m proud that my classroom has become a safe haven for so many students because they are able to be themselves.” 

Looking back on his graduate education training, MBU’s dedicated faculty members and their top-notch instruction still stand out to Montague.

“My professors brought real-life experiences into the classroom which thoroughly prepared me for my career,” he said. “I am still in touch with many of my professors to this day.”

“Meet people who will be part of your lives far beyond MBU. Find time to develop relationships with friends. Build a relationship with your favorite professor.”
— Words of wisdom from
Donté Montague MAT ’15

Kamala Payne ’05

Product developer and scientist

Serving as the director of wellness and lip care at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Kamala Payne ’05 is responsible for the development of new over-the-counter products for numerous national brands, including Emergen-C and ChapStick. She began her career in product design with Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, and many of the products she has developed can be seen on store shelves around the world.   

“There is something very rewarding about designing products that help people help themselves,” she said. “The science of shopping and designing a product from concept to consumer is fascinating.”

Payne remembers how Mary Baldwin prepared her for life after graduation during her senior year, as she completed her thesis on “The Effect of Azo Dyes on Lipoxygenase” and defended it in front of faculty, staff, and her fellow students.  

“Though the year-long process was tough at times, it fully prepared me for my career as a scientist,” she said. “I defend a ‘thesis’ almost daily!”  

“The world is a small place and gone are the days where you will be surrounded by people who are just like you. A deep understanding and awareness of diversity and culture are vitally important to your success in the future.”
— Words of wisdom from
Kamala Payne ’05

Andrew Shipp DPT ’18

Practicing doctor of physical therapy

As the clinic director of an outpatient physical therapy (PT) clinic in Tysons Corner, Andrew Shipp works to help patients of all ages and ability levels rehabilitate from different injuries, surgeries, diagnoses, and more. 

“What I love most about my career is the personal relationships I build with my patients and using exercise as my medicine for them to achieve their goals and increase their quality of life,” he said.  

Becoming a physical therapist was Shipp’s dream throughout his education, and MBU’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences gave him opportunities to hold leadership roles and to connect with professors and clinical healthcare professionals who share his passion for PT. 

“The rigor of the coursework also prepared me to successfully complete an orthopedic clinical specialist residency program,” Shipp said. “Not to mention some of my best friends were made during my time there.”  

“Keep moving forward. It’s not easy, nor is it meant to be, to achieve higher education. If you do the little things each day in any way you can, you’ll see the benefits down the road.”
— Words of wisdom from
Andrew Shipp DPT ’18

Janelle Smith ’08, PhD

Clinical psychologist 

Living and working in Detroit, Janelle Smith ’08 is a clinical psychologist with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Foundation, contributing her expertise to the fight against COVID-19 across many areas including therapy, education, and outreach.

“Some days I function as a ‘traditional therapist’ meeting with Detroiters who are anxious about COVID-19,” she said. “Other days I am educating community groups about resilience or stress management … I also get to consult with leaders in the community on how to use behavioral science to improve medical mistrust or rethink care delivery methods for historically marginalized communities.” 

A VWIL alumna, Smith treasures the close and long-lasting friendships she formed with her peers at Mary Baldwin. She also grew as a student and a person thanks to her teachers.

“My professors honestly cared about me and wanted to see me succeed,” she said. “Asking for and getting help wasn’t a sign of personal weakness, but one of self-awareness, resourcefulness, and courage.”

“Get out of your comfort zones. Learn from those with PhDs and from those with no degrees. Be authentic and vulnerable. Know that your integrity and values are everything.”
— Words of wisdom from
Janelle Smith ’08

Nerissa Davis Stewart ’06

Corporate executive and lifestyle ambassador 

A working mom of four with a baby on the way, Nerissa Davis Stewart ’06 is the west coast café market executive for Capital One Bank. Based in Los Angeles, she oversees hybrid bank/café locations from Seattle, Washington, to Scottsdale, Arizona. 

“I love being able to watch the growth and development of entry and manager level associates as they navigate through their career,” she said.

Last year, she wrote her first book, Redefining Wellness: A Comprehensive Guide on my Journey Undergoing Gastric Sleeve Surgery, and started building her own personal brand, Rissa Recharged, to support and motivate others ready for a lifestyle change. 

Stewart values her time at Mary Baldwin — where she majored in psychology and economics —  as preparing her to be confident and ready for anything.

“Small class sizes, faculty and staff who care, student-led government, and the female leadership experience proved to be invaluable to me,” she said. 

“Enjoy every moment. There is nothing like the college experience where your main goal is to learn: about your major, the world, and about yourself.”
— Words of wisdom from
Nerissa Davis Stewart ’06