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Member Profile: Take 5 with LSU Alum, Kala Burrell-Craft

This article originally appeared on the Louisiana State University website and reprinted with permission.

Kala Burrell-Craft, 2022 AACTE Best Practice Award in Support of Multicultural Education and Diversity Recipient, answers 5 questions about her time at Louisiana State University and her career journey.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your LSU journey, and what you’re up to now.

My name is Kala Burrell-Craft and I am from Oak Grove, Louisiana, which is in West Carroll Parish in the northern part of the state. I started my LSU journey in 2015 when I was hired by Dr. R. Kenton Denny to work with his team on the federal funded Louisiana State Personnel Development Grant. I applied later that year for the PhD program in Educational Leadership and Research and started that very interesting yet fulfilling journey. I earned the following degrees/certificates while at LSU: Post graduate certificate – Urban and Community Education (2019), PhD in Educational Leadership and Research with a focus on Higher Education Administration (2018), and Educational Specialist – Educational Leadership (2017). 

What are your standout memories from your time at LSU? Who and what made a difference?

My time at LSU was electric. I met so many wonderful people and developed lifelong relationships. I feel that my cohort is probably the best cohort to go through the Educational Leadership program, but I may be biased. Dean Mitchell set the stage and created the energy for us Black students at LSU. He always provided a listening ear and sound advice, not to mention the knowledge he imparted on us in his classes that was foundational in entering this next phase of our lives as future academics. To this day, he still allows me to call him and seek his advice as I navigate my career choices.
Dr. Rovaris also stands out as an instrumental leader in helping to shape my journey. He supported a few of my cohort members’ attendance to the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) conference in New Orleans the last year of my program. He encouraged me to pay attention and soak up everything the conference had to offer. The following year, I attended that same conference again, this time in Indiana, where I was now Dr. Burrell-Craft and I received third place in the dissertation award. In March 2022, I was elected to AABHE’s Board of Directors. Had it not been for Dr. Rovaris, I would not have known the opportunities that exist beyond what I didn’t know. That’s why mentorship is so important. I was blessed to have had some great ones at LSU that still support me today.

I met Dr. Petra Robinson during my last year in the graduate program when she came to present to the Black graduate and professional association. I met her again at the AABHE conference that year where she told me I should come sit in on her presentation and we got the opportunity to really connect after that. Fast forward four years, Dr. Robinson is still cemented in my life. She is an awesome mentor and friend. She has included me on several projects to help me get started in academia and I am blessed and grateful for our friendship that has developed from our academic relationship.
I give all props to Dr. Keena Arbuthnot for my stats foundation. She is just simply amazing on so many levels. Dr. Arbuthnot was that visual example of representation for me. Seeing her and Dr. Chaunda Allen-Mitchell do their thing was inspiring and kept me motivated. Representation matters and those Black female academics were examples for me to follow. I would also like to mention Dr. Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy. I was not in the science program, but she made herself available to conference with me my first semester. I don’t even know if she remembers this, but that one conversation helped to shape my perspective of higher education and family.
LSU has some great professors and outside of the ones I’ve already mentioned, I must shout-out Dr. Kim MacGregor who helped sharpen my research skills and knowledge. Her classes were so nurturing yet challenging. My friends and I often laugh that Dr. MacGregor was like one of those enchanted Disney characters. She would draw you into her classes with her charm and calming energy then suddenly, you start reviewing her assignments and you are quickly brought back to reality (LOL). Dr. Carlos Lee, whom I did not even have as a professor, helped me and gave me words of wisdom on a regular basis. He, too, served as a mentor and I cannot think of my LSU experience without thinking of him. My doctoral committee was the best: Drs. Roland Mitchell, Kenny Fasching-Varner, Eugene KennedyJose Torres, and Summer Whitmore.

How did LSU impact your career trajectory?

I am currently the Director of Teacher Residencies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. I manage a graduate level pre-service teaching program that is centered on culturally responsive pedagogy and practices, alongside anti-racist teaching strategies for teachers working in urban schools and districts. I had over ten years’ experience in K-12 schools prior to coming to LSU, most of those experiences were in urban or high-needs schools. LSU, technically Dr. Jacqueline Bach, recognized that experience and worked with me to become the first inaugural recipient of the Urban & Community Education certificate program. My PhD from LSU has opened many doors and has afforded me many opportunities, too many to name. Most importantly, the relationships and community that I experienced and still experience as an alumna is second to none.

Tell us about some of your recent accomplishments.

It’s a blessing to have your work recognized, especially on a national level like the American Association of Colleges for Teacher EducationA (AACTE). The whole experience of ODU winning the 2022 AACTE Best Practice Award in Support of Multicultural Education and Diversity was very humbling, but also affirming. It was validation that my work matters and unapologetically centering multiculturalism in my life, my work, and my scholarship has blessed and helped affirm other people, particularly my students. Through the platform that ODU has provided me, I have been able to challenge the role of whiteness in teacher preparation programs and grow culturally responsive teachers who can teach Black and Brown children. Gloria Ladson-Billings says it best, “Culturally relevant pedagogy is not just endorsing or validating the culture kids come with; it’s giving them access to at least one other culture, so they leave school at least bi-culturally competent. You are covering not just Black or Brown kids, but white kids; white kids should not go out into a very international global workforce and only understand themselves or their culture” (2017). 

Any advice for current LSU School of Education students?

It sounds so cliché but stand in your own truth. Be unapologetic, be authentic, be a good human, extend yourself grace, and be thankful. My foundation started in West Carroll Parish many moons ago and is instrumental in the way I see and experience the world. I see the world through a critical race theory (CRT) mindset. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about CRT and for the first time I had a term that I could use that summed up who I was and what I thought. It was so liberating. I am a critical race theorist and I take full ownership of it. To read more about how my identity was shaped, read article two of my three article dissertation. My dissertation titled: “Am Complicated, and so is my Blackness: A Trifecta Exploration of Educational Spaces and Identity Development,” contains an autoethnographic article that I found therapeutic to write titled The Fly in the Bowl of Buttermilk. Get as many mentors as you can. You are a complicated creation and no one person can help fill in the gaps of what you need in this world. Lastly, let your light shine brightly. You were created in God’s image, and you have purpose. You just have to figure out what that is for you and your mentors are vessels for that.