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The Reach

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I AM PTK: Dr. Lillie McCain

I AM PTK: Dr. Lillie McCain

Dr. Lillie McCain, former advisor to the Alpha Omicron Iota Chapter at Mott Community College in Michigan, has been a driving force behind Phi Theta Kappa’s Leadership Development Studies Program.

She was born in Teoc, a small community in Carroll County in the Mississippi Delta. A descendant of slaves owned by the family of Arizona Senator John McCain, she became an outspoken figure in the Civil Rights Movement.

She marched for desegregation. She was arrested. And, in her senior year of high school in 1968, she decided to attend a previously all-white school.

“I was being burdened by the idea that I’d put so much energy into the desegregation movement and then I didn’t go,” she said. “It’s not something I’ll forget.”

At 6 feet 1 inch tall, McCain had been a basketball player at her old school. Now, she couldn’t play. At the pre-prom dinner, she was seated with the teachers, not her classmates. The prom itself was held at a private, segregated club, so she could not attend.

Still, she held her head high. She attended Tougaloo College, a historically black university in Mississippi, where she continued to protest. Her experience was published in Seventeen magazine. Then, she attended graduate school in Kansas — an all-white school — and completed her studies as a psychology major.

It was during this time McCain said she mellowed out. She knew that if she wanted to truly live, she couldn’t continue to harbor anger and hostility.

McCain was offered a job at Mott Community College in 1975. At 23 years old, she was a full-time psychology professor — some of her students were older than her. She felt lost, so she took leave and joined the military. She didn’t quite “find herself,” but she did learn a lot.

“It taught me to appreciate the freedom of expression as a professor, and the confidence it placed in me helped me to develop a way to teach my students in a way they could grasp,” she said.

McCain returned to Mott in 1980 and was “transformed from a lecturer into a teacher.” A few years later, her office partner, the Phi Theta Kappa advisor, asked her to come to Mississippi to PTK Headquarters for leadership training. There, she met Dr. Jo Marshall, now-president of Somerset Community College in Kentucky, and kicked off more than 20 years of co-facilitating the Leadership Development Instructor Certification Seminars.

Hundreds of college faculty members and administrators, as well as leadership development professionals, have been certified to teach Phi Theta Kappa’s Leadership Development Studies curriculum under the direction of McCain, Marshall, or both.

“I absolutely enjoy the process,” McCain said. “I love working with people to help them help themselves. Each experience helps me to see myself a little differently.”

She refers to those she certifies as her “colleagues” rather than her students, and she views herself as more of a facilitator. She structures her sessions in a way that encourages participants to naturally start revealing their strengths and weaknesses to themselves.

And with each session, McCain still gets excited.

“It becomes very personal for the person participating and, very often, gratifying,” she said. “My approach in my own classroom changed. It made teaching more meaningful.”

McCain is now retired from teaching, though she continues to facilitate Leadership Instructor Certification Seminars. She lives in South Carolina where she sings in a community chorus and works part-time for the Social Security Administration, reviewing files for those whose claims have been denied due to mental health issues.

Don’t miss your opportunity to become certified to teach PTK’s Leadership Development Studies Program on your campus. Register today for this summer’s certification session, July 9-12 at the Center for Excellence in Jackson, Mississippi.



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