Carol Dudley sits at her desk typing a text message on her phone.
“How are you doing today Ms. Dudley?”
“I’m not doing too well.”
When she turns around, she looks exhausted.
“I got home late last night and have a lot to do this week.”
Dudley is the director of career development in the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University. She is in charge of helping students get the best opportunities to prepare them for life after college.
On her door is a huge piece of paper with a list of upcoming events that she has planned. She describes the upcoming public relations fair and how she has to meet some people to make sure it will run smoothly.
Whenever you see Dudley, she’s frantically walking down the hallways of the School of Communications, her high heels clicking against the tiles on the hallway floor. Her schedule is jam-packed between planning events, helping students, critiquing resumes and networking. You name it; she does it. At any given time, she has at least one or two students in her office.
“Everybody’s got a story,” Dudley said. “It must be identified as you’re great, we’re going to keep you on a great path or you’ve done not so great in high school, but here’s your chance to rewrite it.”
Students are constantly in and out of her office to find the latest job and internship opportunities and to make sure their resumes are in perfect condition. She also makes sure that students look the part, too, and she serves as a visual reminder.
Dudley maintains a business casual look. Her long, ash blonde hair is usually pulled into a ponytail. Lean, fit and 5 feet 8 inches tall, she usually wears a nice dress, blouse with a skirt or slacks, or suit on special occasions. Heels are a staple of her attire.
Dispensing Sound Advice
Students not only come in Dudley’s office to find opportunities, but to talk as well. She’s one of their favorite administrators. Students love to see her, and they always come to chat about what’s going on in their lives while she works. She laughs and treats them as if they’re good friends or part of her family.
She’s caring and loving and truly wants every student to succeed. She won’t hesitate to listen to any problem and always offers sound advice.
“She told me not to be discouraged to apply for a job,” said Brandi Montgomery, a senior studying broadcast journalism. “She always said, ‘the least they can say is no.’”
“I would not be as driven, determined or dedicated if it had not been for Ms. Dudley,” she said.
Through Dudley, Montgomery was one of three Howard students selected for the annual White House Correspondents Association scholarship program. The then-sophomore also met President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I owe her my success, not only within journalism but in the communication field overall,” said Montgomery, whose minor is speech pathology. “She didn’t allow me to stay in the journalism bubble, and she insisted that I become well versed in the industry.”
Being a ‘Super Shy’ and Naïve Freshman
Dudley says that she wasn’t always as funny, personable and direct as she is today.
“I was shy,” Dudley said. “I wasn’t the person I am now — just go to people and start talking to them.”
Dudley started her Howard journey in 1972 after she won the National Negro Merit Scholarship and was automatically granted admission to the top five HBCUs in the country. Later on, Howard sent her a letter about freshman week, and she thought it was interesting so she went.
“I got a letter in the mail from Howard in the summer when I was planning on going to Emerson College, and it was telling about freshman week and how there was going to be a boat ride and all these fun activities, and I was like ‘Oh, that looks exciting,’” Dudley recalled.
Afterwards, Dudley decided to attend Howard for her undergraduate career, but it didn’t turn out quite how she expected.
“I hated it my first year,” Dudley said. “I didn’t hate Howard. I hated Washington, D.C.”
”I was naïve about city life,” said Dudley, who grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania. “I was super shy my whole first year. I cried every night for three months.”
She soon got used to Howard after finding professors who were willing to give her opportunities, and she got used to D.C. by learning how the city works.
Tom Walker, a faculty member and advisor at Howard at the time, encouraged her to enter speech pathology, because she liked helping people. She soon found internships related to her major, such as working as a trained psychiatric aide at Norristown State Hospital back home in Pennsylvania. While Dudley found the internship interesting, she said she was too sensitive to work in such an environment.
Dudley described the environment at the hospital as horrible because of the treatment of the patients. She witnessed people receiving electroshock therapy, people being committed because they were gay or lesbian, and people crying and begging her not to leave.
“I wasn’t a very good person there. I didn’t like what they did to those patients,” Dudley said. “I like helping people, but I was too sensitive for the state hospital.”
Developing Career Fair
After she graduated in 1976, she worked as a program coordinator under Orlando Taylor, Ph.D., then chair of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, who later became Howard University’s vice provost of research and dean of the Graduate School. In this role, Dudley helped master’s and doctoral students obtain federal training grants in speech and hearing.
She stayed in that position from 1976 to 1986, when Taylor offered her the opportunity to become director of career development after he became dean of the School of Communications. Dudley said she was nervous in her first year building the career development program, because speech pathology and media were two different worlds.
“If I had to pick a color to describe what speech pathologists are like I would say pink,” Dudley said. “If I had to pick a color to describe media folks, it would be navy blue.”
One feat that Dudley had to accomplish was revamping the career fair. The previous director didn’t do so well with the career fair, and employers were threatening not to come back. Dudley was able to salvage those relationships and grow the career fair into what it is today where major media outlets like the New York Times, Politico, CNN, NBC Universal and Time Warner send recruiters and speakers for the professional development sessions.
“One of the things I like to say to students all the time is ‘You can write better, if you really believe you can write,”’ Dudley explained. “’You will use the jargon of your industry, if you really believe you are a journalist. Your eye with the camera will be better, if you really believe you’re a filmmaker.’”
“So I really believed I could learn what companies were looking for. I believed I could change that job fair, because at the time the job fair was very messed up. And because I believed it, I just became it.”
The School of Communications career fair is so successful that students from other schools and media professionals looking for a job make it a priority to attend.
While Dudley wants the career fair to grow, she says a few things need to happen for it to expand.
“The economy can improve, students can get more serious about their futures and Howard can build me a better [conference] center,” Dudley said.
Dozens of Thank You Notes
Throughout the years, Dudley has helped alumni, such as Jennifer Thomas, who was an executive producer at CNN and returned to Howard as an assistant professor, and Keith Alexander, part of the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning team for national reporting, who teaches periodically.
Dudley’s influence is just as strong today as it was during her early years. Dozens of thank you notes from students line her door and wall. Students and alumni swear by her as one of the most resourceful people on campus for internships and jobs.
“Ms. Dudley did the most for me when I was looking for an internship after my junior year,” said Iasha Watson, a 2014 alumna who majored in public relations. “I ended up getting three internships and working them all. When I went back to Howard senior year and told her, she was so happy for me. She also made it clear that she knew I wanted to succeed so I would.”
“She also did my Teach for America recommendation,” Watson said. “After graduation, I went to see her and she tried to help me look for different paths after teaching. She told me where to look and what to do. I love her and miss her dearly. She’s amazing.”
The advice that Dudley always gives students is: “Apply yourself. Find a balance in your time. Apply yourself early.”
Besides helping students at Howard, Dudley is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Career Educators. She has received numerous awards from student and professional organizations. The Society for Professional Journalists recognized her for Distinguished Service to Local Journalism. Café Mocha Radio recently honored Dudley as a Game Changer at its “Salute Her” awards luncheon.
Dudley loves to help students and finds joy in helping others meet their full potential.
“This isn’t a job,” Dudley said. “It’s my career, and it’s my passion.”
Victoria Jones is a senior majoring in journalism at Howard University.