Pamela “Sissi” Carroll, Ed.D., is the Founding Dean and Mildred W. Coyle Endowed Professor and Eminent Scholar for the College of Community Innovation and Education at the University of Central Florida, where she oversees 8 departments, 300 faculty and staff, and 9,000 students. She and her colleagues focus on using the resources within the college to lift lives within the communities that they serve. She is currently dedicated to the Parramore Education and Innovation District project, Orlando, for which she serves as co-principal investigator for grants funded by Helios Education Foundation, Kresge Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and the City of Orlando. She also serves on the Board of A Gift for Teaching, City Year, HOUSD (the Central Florida Housing Trust); as an active member of the Orlando First United Methodist Church and chair of its Church Council; and as immediate past president of the Council of Academic Deans of Research in Education Institutions, and Chair of the State University System of Florida Deans Council. In 2019, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Education at Florida State University, where she completed her Master of Arts degree, and in 2020, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Auburn University College of Education.
Why did you choose the college you attended and the college you’re currently teaching at?
I attended Auburn University because going there was practically in our family genes. My parents met at AU; Mom, who graduated as one of two women in her pharmacy class, was a cheerleader and one of the university’s most enthusiastic supporters her entire life. Dad earned a degree in aeronautical engineering before he left for WWII; when he returned, he earned a degree in pharmacy, too. Although our older sister had severe intellectual disabilities and did not attend school, my brothers and I were eager to carry on the tradition. I was blessed with wonderful professors in English and in English Education at AU, including my life-long mentor and guardian angel, Dr. Terry C. Ley.
As for the college I’m teaching at, I have been Dean of the College of Community Innovation and Education at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, for the past six years. I am here because, while on the faculty at Florida State (Tallahassee), I saw UCF growing exponentially. I knew a few faculty members and wondered what was going on all over campus. After three years as dean of the College of Education at Oklahoma State University, the long-time dean at UCF retired, and I was eager to return to the state I had grown to know as home, and to become part of the thriving, diverse campus. It was a great decision.
Could you describe what a typical day looks like for you?
Work days begin early with time for a quiet devotional and coffee, a dog walk, then a run, breakfast, and first email check. The days each week are filled with meetings with groups in our college such as the Deans Team and Leadership Team; groups of college “stakeholders” like school superintendents and their staffs and directors of non-profits organizations and their co-workers; and potential donors and generous project funders. I also spend a lot of time meeting with faculty and staff about the business of educating our students—for example, department chairs will go over new ideas, or the college research team will consider interdisciplinary projects. I reserve an hour at noon to catch up on emails, telephone calls, texts, and Twitter. Often, though, I also have a chance to join a colleague and friend for lunch at a campus café or nearby restaurant. Always, there is laughter during the meetings, despite the serious accomplishments that we strive toward.
At the close of each work day, I review my calendar for the next day so that I know what my homework is, take it with me, and try to get it done before I start to prepare dinner for my husband and me. (My previous career as a classroom teacher of English helped me form that habit.) I read a professional article almost daily, as well. I take a full day off from work every weekend so that I can totally relax and feel recharged and fully engaged with work when I return on Monday.
What are the most frustrating and gratifying components of your work?
The most frustrating component of my work is that my colleagues so often approach me or my office by saying “I know you are too busy, but…” or “I know you don’t have time, but…” I really wish they realized that my greatest joy in work is spending time on tasks that help them. The most gratifying has been to see colleagues reach toward goals and achieve them. One colleague whom I had the opportunity to mentor has left our college to become a dean at another highly-respected university. Another is pursuing a similar path. Several students have pursued graduate degrees and achieved much more than they originally thought possible, once they learned that others believe in them. It is such a joy to pass on the strong sense of mentoring and sponsorship that I was fortunate to receive when I was growing into my current position.
Looking back at your career to date, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud to have been a part of colleges that focus on improving lives through education. Universities can become so focused on research productivity that they sometimes lose sight of the importance of human relationships and quality of life. At each stage of my career, I have been blessed to be among people who pushed against what’s traditionally counted as “success” for university professors, and to help redefine “impact” through the kind of community-engaged, yet rigorous, research, teaching, and service that we do at UCF.
Looking back at your career to date, what are you most surprised by?
I am most surprised that university professors are ordinary people. For so many years, I viewed them as mythical, and suspected that they had superpowers of knowledge and discernment. Then I became one, and realized that, while professors may have subject knowledge in one or more area, they rely on others for information, insights, and guidance in other areas. The university is a community that supports friendships, expects curiosity, and enjoys laughter.
How did you become involved in this work?
I began a lifetime career as an educator teaching high school and middle school students in English language arts classes in Tallahassee, FL. As a classroom teacher, I had great mentors, and absolutely loved working with colleagues, students, and their parents. After several years, I wanted to help other teachers become energized about the profession, so I returned to school at Auburn University, where I’d earned a dual bachelor’s degree in English and in education, to study English Education. After completing my doctorate and a year of work at Georgetown College, Kentucky, I returned to Tallahassee to accept my dream position as a member of the faculty of the College of Education at Florida State University. I worked in the College of Education at FSU for twenty years. Some of my happiest experiences involved taking university students into area middle and high schools to engage with adolescents who needed extra time, attention, and academic coaching. I was able to publish books and articles primarily about young adult literature, particularly as it is used to promote literacy among students in secondary schools, and to anchor literacy practices among faculty members.
Eventually I moved into administrative roles in the College of Education, including those of department chair and associate dean. With wonderful mentoring and support from office staff, faculty, students, and administrators, especially Dean Marcy Driscoll, I was able to extend my reach into the role of Dean of the College of Education at Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, Oklahoma. There, I was fortunate to work with individuals who helped me commit to projects that were intrinsically meaningful and that also contributed to people in very immediate ways. Most notable was an educational, intergenerational project with the Choctaw nation in southeast Oklahoma, for which my colleagues and I were awarded the President’s Multidisciplinary Award.
In 2015, I was delighted to return to Florida, with my husband, Dr. Joe Donoghue, where we accepted positions at the University of Central Florida. Joe, a coastal geologist, is a member of the faculty in the Physics Department. When not working, I love to be outside running or cycling with Joe, swimming or gardening, or playing with our dog Sunny and cats, Carl Sandburg and MO.
Thank you to Pamela Carroll for participating in our Q&A series! Getting to know professors at your school is an important part of the college experience and can help you decide on your best college fit in the college admissions process. Explore the upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!