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Honors and Awards

Professor and Senior Advisor for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Joy Gaston Gayles Receives Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professorship Award

NC State College of Education Professor Joy Gaston Gayles

NC State College of Education Professor and Senior Advisor for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Joy Gaston Gayles has more than two decades of experience in her field and has received multiple awards for her work, but she still does not consider herself the only expert in her classroom. 

Gayles said when students come into her class, she wants to create a space where everybody can learn together and where students can bring their unique and authentic perspectives to the conversation. 

“I want to create a sense of community in the classroom. When there is a culture of care, respect and appreciation, it makes talking about hard topics better and encourages us to be vulnerable with each other in a safe space,” Gayles said. “This kind of community in the classroom also allows all students to be creative. I want them to use their imagination; I want them to bring their gifts and talents to the learning experience and have fun. I provide a bit of structure and then I want them to run with it and make some magic happen. We’re all in this space together, and we’re all learning together. My job is to facilitate that process.” 

Gayles’ work as a teacher, mentor and advisor was recently honored. She was selected to receive the NC State Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Professorship Award, which recognizes outstanding graduate-level teaching across the university. 

The award is one of many recognitions Gayles – who also serves as the president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education – has received over the past year. She was recently recognized by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education as one of 25 leading women in higher education, received NC State’s Equity for Women Award and received the Ebony Harlem Award for Graduate Student Mentorship.

“All these awards are meaningful, but they often reflect back to me the importance of supporting people – to keep going, especially when it’s tough, and do important work that makes a positive difference in people’s lives,” she said. “This one, because it’s focused on graduate education, is especially meaningful because I love our Higher Education program. Being able to work alongside graduate students in the classroom, but also supporting them in multiple different ways to make sure they’re getting the kinds of experiences that will prepare them for what they want to do in the future –  that work is really important to me and my colleagues. We work really hard to create opportunities that will benefit our students now and in the future. That has been especially challenging during the pandemic, but we are still committed to working hard and being creative on their behalf.” 

Gayles said one of the best parts of her career is having the opportunity to work with and collaborate with graduate students. 

The students, she said, often come into their programs with great ideas and experiences from their work in the field that Gayles incorporates into her instruction to make for more meaningful classroom experiences. She is also always looking for opportunities to engage their minds in new and unique ways through the research and writing process and sharing aspects of her own work and experience that align with students’ interests. 

“I’m always trying to connect with students in ways that I think will expand their experience and give them opportunities to do some cool things,” Gayles said. “We put a lot of emphasis on that in our program. We don’t want you to just come to graduate school, take the classes and graduate. We want you to really use what you’re learning in practice and bring what you’re learning in practice to enhance the classroom experience and to advance knowledge.” 

Although her research, which focuses on access, equity and success in higher education with a focus on barriers that student athletes, women and people of color in STEM fields face, has always been important, Gayles said she prioritizes placing equal emphasis on good teaching and advising. 

“It’s difficult to balance research, teaching advising and service, especially because research and scholarship are weighted more heavily in the tenure and promotion process. Further, we know from the research literature that greater expectations unfairly are placed on women and faculty of color to do heavy lifting relative to service and student advising,” she said. “We do it because it’s important, but also realize that a lot of it is not rewarded in the same way.” 

When she was nominated for the Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professorship, Gayles said it gave her an opportunity to reflect on the students she has worked with over the years and what they have accomplished since graduating from the program. Some have entered the professoriate while others, she said, hold senior level leadership and administrative positions where they are making difficult and important decisions related to education and student success. 

To see and reflect on how our students have succeeded in reaching their goals, Gayles said, is the greatest award she could have received. 

“It humbles me because, in some ways, they may be doing things that are more fantastic than what I think I’m doing and just having played a small part in their journey is meaningful. I don’t take credit for it, I’m just happy to have been a part of their journey,” she said. “As a person of color and a woman in the classroom, I’ve had more than my fair share of working through challenges, but this award is meaningful because it feels like I’ve made some kind of contribution in the lives of others.”