Two men and a woman stand in front of the Wingate University seal.

From left, Dr. Darrel Staat, Lisa Hodges and Dr. John McKay celebration Hodges’ successful completion of her capstone project. She will be awarded her doctorate in education on Saturday at Wingate’s fall commencement.

When Wingate University education doctoral candidate Orlice “Lisa” Clayton Hodges crosses the commencement stage on Saturday, Dec. 16, she’ll do so under the watchful eye of a longtime North Carolina lawmaker. U.S. Congresswoman Alma Adams, in her second term representing North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District, will be in attendance to see Hodges receive her diploma.

“Back in 2005, she saw leadership potential in me and saw me going to that next educational level where I didn’t yet see myself,” Hodges says of her longtime mentor.

A 1981 graduate of N.C. A&T State University with a bachelor’s degree in education, Hodges received her master’s in health administration from Central Michigan University in 2002. In 2016, she earned her education specialist degree at Wingate’s Ballantyne campus, and she just finished her doctoral degree in community college executive leadership, successfully defending her capstone project on Nov. 9.

She’s among 189 students who have earned graduate-level degrees from Wingate this fall, 73 of which are in education, the area that Hodges says is truly her passion, despite her nearly three decades of work in public health.

Hodges was serving on a planning committee for the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus Foundation when Adams, then a representative in the N.C. House, took notice of her organizational and time-management skills and her ability to complete a project while keeping her eye on the big picture. The lawmaker and longtime educator pulled Hodges aside and began to offer encouragement and advice on future projects.

“Through our conversations over the years, she began to mentor me and to introduce me to activities or people she thought I needed to connect with,” Hodges says. “From 2005 to 2013, I took on more and more responsibility with the Foundation. She would ‘voluntell’ me for different tasks, and I just became part of the fold.”

Hodges, who is now on the Foundation’s board of directors, says she had also been inspired by Katie Dorsett, who served in the N.C. Senate from 2003 to 2010 and had earlier been a college dean at A&T.

“My being inspired by strong, educated, African-American women began in 1977 when I stepped foot on the A&T campus,” Hodges says. “I’ve been blessed to have been mentored by extremely caring women who are renowned in academia, education, politics and religion. I don’t have words to describe their influence in my life.”

Encouragement from a straight-shooter

Alma Adams

U.S. Congresswoman Alma Adams

When she began to consider coming to Wingate to pursue an advanced education degree, Hodges reached out to Adams for more advice. “She told me, ‘Do you plan on living for the next three years? Then occupy yourself doing something productive with that time,’” Hodges says.

Already working full-time for the North Carolina Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities and busy with church, civic and social activities, Hodges decided to commit the next three years to her doctoral studies, which meant driving from Raleigh to Ballantyne nearly every Saturday, often carpooling with two other students in the program.

“We would meet and leave Raleigh at 5:30 a.m., sit in class in Ballantyne from 9 to 5 and then drive back to Raleigh,” she says. “In the beginning of the program, I was not just working and going to school, I was also taking care of my grandson full time, because it was more important for my daughter to study to get her master’s degree.”

Hodges says it was supportive Wingate professors, encouragement from Adams, and strength from God that helped her complete the program.

“Just having Alma as a listening ear, encouraging me, meant so much,” she says. “I would call her and say, ‘I can’t do this. This is too hard.’ And she would say ‘Lisa, you can do it.’” She was inspired not only by Adams’ talents as an artist but by “her passion for academia, her passion for her students.”

Hodges says Adams’ work on behalf of historically black colleges and universities, both at the state level and more recently in Congress, is commendable, as is her willingness to invest in the lives of individuals. “She’s a straight-shooter and a servant leader,” Hodges says. “Those are the things I emulate.”

Now less than 17 months from retiring from her state job, the new doctor of education is eyeing a second career, most likely in the college-rich area surrounding the state capital. (There are 33 colleges within 50 miles of Raleigh).

“I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know that God has prepared me for the future,” Hodges says.

In addition to Adams, Hodges will have her uncle, her two daughters and two young grandchildren in the audience at Austin Auditorium on Dec. 16. Commencement will begin at 9 a.m. Those without a ticket may watch the live-feed in the Batte Center’s McGee Theatre or on the internet. A reception for graduates and their guests will follow in the Batte Center Rotunda.

Dec. 11, 2017