Lynette Stokes Earns President Seat at South Suburban College

College of Education Alumni Profile

by Julian Zeng

The stigmas most often associated with foster care are neglect, aggression and abuse. But Lynette Stokes is proof that one more qualifier belongs on that list: success.

Stokes, an alumna of Roosevelt University’s College of Education, earned her Master of Arts and doctoral degrees in public administration and educational leadership, and has compiled a notable resume working in higher education. Since 2013, Stokes worked as vice president of academic services at South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois — in July 2018, Stokes was appointed the institution’s president, becoming the first woman to occupy that seat.

As a product of the child welfare system, living in foster care from ages 12–21, Stokes refused to let her difficult upbringing detract from her determination to achieve academic excellence. It also drove her to work in City Colleges of Chicago for nearly 12 years to improve learning conditions for students, culminating with her position as dean of instruction. And, while at Roosevelt, helped to inform her doctoral dissertation, which earned her the University’s Most Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award in 2005.

“One of the things I always encourage students I work on dissertations with is to do something that’s meaningful to them personally. Hers is a great success story,” said Judith Gouwens, professor of education, chair of Stokes’s dissertation committee. “It speaks to her resilience, and that’s why she won the award. I can’t say enough about how lovely she is as a person.”

Stokes was at first hesitant to include her own background in child welfare in her hermeneutical study, which profiled the cases of three adults who were former foster children to discuss the impact the system had on their academic performance. Gouwens encouraged Stokes to let her own experiences frame the study, strengthening its emotional impact.

“[Gouwens] really led with such empathy and emotional intelligence. She certainly helped me through that dissertation process,” Stokes said. “She made a tremendous impact and that was one of the most rewarding experiences, having her there.”

While earning her doctorate at Roosevelt, Stokes was involved with Ada S. McKinley Foster Care Services, utilizing her background as an elementary school teacher, and remained active in equal rights organizations. Her diligent work outside the classroom, paired with her outstanding academic performance, was a catalyst for her career upon graduating with her EdD in 2005.

“I had hoped that it would open doors for me,” said Stokes, who met a full-time employee at City Colleges who agreed to serve as her third dissertation committee member. This direct relationship “gave her some insight into my background and how passionate I was about education,” she said. “That helped prepare me for my journey into a full-time position as an administrator.”

“I think she’s a great example of someone who perseveres; she’s very goal-oriented, she knows how to accomplish what she sets out to do. She sets goals and gets there.”

Judith Gouwens
Professor of education

The cohort framework of the doctoral program also gave Stokes a “different appreciation for teamwork, accountability and motivation.” It’s a model that has consistently carried over into her professional career and mirrors much of South Suburban College’s mission of inclusion and collaboration. As president, Stokes hope to help students through the process of enrollment to graduation, a close guidance that can be found at the heart of community college education.

According to Gouwens, while her Roosevelt education may have helped Stokes reach tangible, concrete professional goals, her character is what separates her from those on the same track.

“Having the education at Roosevelt gave her opportunities to extend what she knew, but she brought to all of it who she was,” Gouwens said. “She’s articulate, she’s charming and very smart. When you’re president of an organization like that, you’re the face. It’s a good thing for them.”

Frank Zuccarelli, chairman of South Suburban’s Board of Trustees, has confidence that is certainly the case. South Suburban, which boasts high success rates with programs that require state certifications, such as its nursing program, remains top of the line for the community and students within its school district. Stokes is set to usher those good marks into the next generation.

“I believe that Lynette is exactly the kind of leader our college requires as we move forward,” said Frank Zuccarelli, chairman of the South Suburban College Board of Trustees. “She is experienced, energetic and collaborative, and places a high value on partnering with the community.”

Managing an entire educational community may seem daunting, but it’s right in line with Stokes’s passions as a lifelong educator. On her off-days, though, Stokes calls herself just your average person — she’s a big musical theatre lover who loves spending time with her adult daughter and granddaughter.

“I think she’s a great example of someone who perseveres; she’s very goal-oriented, she knows how to accomplish what she sets out to do. She sets goals and gets there,” Gouwens said. “Students are people who need a professor to tell them what they need to do. Learners are people who take the initiative, ask questions — I see Lynette as that kind of person. I’m just so excited for her. What a wonderful thing for Roosevelt University.”

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