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Dr. William Emil Mayo, EdD
Dean of Transportation and Applied Technology, SOWELA Technical Community College
by Angie Kay Dilmore
Born in 1970 and a lifelong resident of Lake Charles, William Emil Mayo has spent his career helping other people succeed – first as a social worker, and now in the field of education. He was hired at SOWELA in 2008 as the Director of Workforce Development and moved from there to Dean of Workforce Solutions. Now as Dean of Transportation and Applied Technology, Mayo is responsible for nine certificate and two-year degree programs: Forest Technology, Electrical Construction Apprenticeship, Plumbing Construction Apprenticeship, Aviation Maintenance Tech, Automotive Maintenance and Repair Tech, Welding, Machine Tool Tech, Building Trades, and Horticulture.
As a child, Mayo was diagnosed with several learning disabilities. He repeated the first and fourth grades; but he never allowed the challenges to hold him back. Mayo graduated from Washington High School and Grambling State University. Later in his career, he continued his education, earning a Master of Education from McNeese State University in 2002 and a Doctorate in Education and Educational Leadership from University of Louisiana Lafayette in 2018. Needless to say, Dr. Mayo is passionate about education.
Thrive magazine caught up with Dr. Mayo where he shared his enthusiasm for encouraging people, promoting social justice, and the value of being raised by responsible, loving parents.
Tell us about your childhood.
I was born the fourth of seven siblings. We were a typical family in a working-class neighborhood. People took care of their homes and their families. Our home was filled with love, and we were happy. My parents believed in the importance of reading and education. My mother worked as a maid for nearly 50 years and my father was a machine operator for Acme Brick Company. They worked hard so my siblings and I had access to education. We all went to college. We weren’t the Rockefellers, but we had everything we needed.
Given your career choices, it’s clear you find joy in helping others. What drives that passion?
I’ve overcome learning disabilities my whole life. My mother taught me, no matter how difficult it was, a disability was not an excuse to not succeed. The words quit and can’t were not allowed. And there were many people who helped me along the way. I help others because people helped me. When I was in college, it was all about helping someone else have a better life, or change their situation, or be better than when they began. Now as a dean, I continue to have those opportunities.
As Dean of Transportation and Applied Technology, what are your responsibilities and what’s a typical day look like?
I oversee nine certificate and degree programs, all vastly different. I assist students, work with faculty to develop and review curriculum, set goals, encourage enrollment, and ensure students excel. We’re here to support the students from beginning to end. Sometimes a student is in a major that’s not a good fit, and I work to help that student get to where he or she needs to be as it relates as a career path. When we get them out into the workforce, we want them to be as happy as I am in my job. A typical day is usually me on roller skates. There’s always a new challenge, a new direction. We are constantly working to help the next generation and build the next workforce. Every day is different.
What do you love about your role at SOWELA?
I love everything about my role. I enjoy my work. I enjoy the people I work with. We respect each other. What I love most about my job is graduation. When we see two years of work come together in the awarding of a degree that allows a student to go into the workforce and be a productive citizen, that means we have done our job in preparing them. Education is key. Not everyone will go to a four-year college, and that’s okay. Every step of education is valid, whether one gets a high school diploma, an associate degree, it’s all important. If you are doing something you enjoy, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a plumber or a doctor, a janitor, or a CEO of a company; we want you to be happy.
What are the challenges of your role?
My greatest challenge is convincing people of the importance of education and the importance of preparing themselves for tomorrow. The real conversation is, yes, it’s beautiful today, but tomorrow is going to be stormy, and you need to be ready to weather the storms through preparation and that is getting an education that leads to a solid career in the workforce.
Your parents were politically active and part of the civil rights movement. How did that influence who you are today?
I have been going to the voting polls since I was seven years old. I remember saying to the poll workers, “We’re here to vote for President Carter.” My mother said, “You don’t say that.” But voting is important. When you have a right, you need to take advantage of it, you need to participate in the process, or your rights could be taken away.
What are your thoughts on how our nation can overcome racial bias and discrimination?
That’s a million-dollar question. My philosophy is “Love ye one another.” We’re all different. We’re a country of differences. And we all need to respect that. We don’t need to be fearful of each other. In North Louisiana, they put their beans on the side of the rice, and here in South Louisiana, we put our beans on top. We’re different. As a country, until we are ready to accept differences, we’re going to have problems. We need to all sit around the table and have honest conversations. Not the conversations we want to hear, about our biases. Sometimes if we can’t say Amen, we have to say Ouch. We need to deal with the Ouch. My faith is a part of me. Love ye one another. I would be a hypocrite if I said I like everyone. No, I don’t. But I love everybody. When someone walks in my door, I need to give them the same love and service I would expect from them.
How do you spend your free time?
I have some of the greatest sisters God could ever give a person – Deborah, Constance, and Latricia and I spend a lot of time with them. I love art and enjoying going to local art galleries. I love cars and can often be found perusing car lots. I also enjoy being with my fraternity brothers, Alpha Phi Alpha. We do a lot of education-related service projects.
What’s next for
I’m just sitting here waiting to see what tomorrow brings. If God needs me somewhere else, that will be my vision. But for today, I’m focused on making sure we get students enrolled, working on our automotive accreditation, working on my fraternity’s programs and projects, and graduation in the spring. But my greatest goal is always helping that one person get to the next level.