Newly minted Ph.D. Taheera Blount successfully defended her dissertation in counseling education on March 14, 2017. However, she has had a full career even before this accomplishment. Learn more about her unique path to academia.
Taheera Blount was born in New York but was raised in a small town called Hookerton, North Carolina, near Greenville. She earned a two-year associate’s degree in human services from Pitt Community College, then a bachelor’s in social work from Barton College. In 2008, she graduated with a master’s in school counseling from North Carolina Central University. She received her professional counselor’s license in 2010.
With a passion for helping people, Blount started out in human services and social work, where she assisted many families who were experiencing a lot of the same things Taheera lived through while growing up. “I knew at an early age that I wanted to become a social worker to help others who were less fortunate – that’s how I entered the field, and I’ve been navigating through it ever since.”
Blount’s mother set an example by going back to school at the age of forty with four children after her father passed away, telling the young Blount and her siblings, ‘I did this at forty; I expect you all to do greater.’ Blount reflects, “That stuck with me, and little did I know that my pursuit for education would be my way out, growing up in meager circumstances.”
Her mother passed away during the second semester of her doctoral studies, but it is her mother’s life story that has provided a guiding point for her work.
“To know that I am able to carry on my mother’s legacy makes me proud. She loved helping people. She loved students, and she was a substance abuse counselor back home. I’m the first in my family with a master’s degree and will be the first with a Ph.D.. So when someone tells you it’s not possible, it is possible. It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you’re coming from a family with low socioeconomic status, it doesn’t matter, because you can push through that, and education was my way of doing that.”
Experience and Accomplishments
As a licensed professional counselor, Blount has done mental health therapy in the community, worked as a mental health technician in a psychiatric unit, served as a case manager working with children, adolescents and families with mental health disorders and worked as a school counselor. In all, she has already served 17 years in the field, making her an extremely experienced and accomplished member of the student body.
She states, “It took me a while because I started the doctoral program in 2010 and at the time, I was working full-time as a school counselor. As the courseload became more intense, I had to make the decision to leave my job. Dr. Anona Smith-Williams, associate dean of Student Success and Strategic Community Engagement, gave me the opportunity to work with the STEM Early College high school students as a graduate assistant, and I’ve been there since 2014.”
In the position, Blount develops programs for high school students that help connect them to resources on and around campus. The students include juniors and seniors in high school who are taking high school and NC State classes for dual credit. The program has hosted a number of organizations on campus such as the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics and Public Service, Admissions, Financial Aid, the Writing Center and NCSU Libraries. The program gives high school students exposure to college and helps them feel more connected to the resources around them. Blount also provides academic counseling one-on-one for students who need additional support.
Advice to Students Considering Graduate School
Blount provides the following tips for students who are considering graduate school:
- Have an idea of your research trajectory. “For me, my research trajectory changed. My work started out with drop-out prevention because I was in the school system at the time. When I left the school system, I focused my research on substance abuse and African American women who have been able to achieve and sustain recovery.”
- Develop a good relationship with your advisor – this is paramount.“My advisor, Dr. Edwin Gerler, has been very supportive throughout this process. But I urge students: Do not depend on your advisor. Develop a plan of what you want to accomplish and how you can push yourself to achieve that goal. Your advisor is not going to hold your hand; you have to guide yourself – they will be there for support.”
- Understand how your research interests fit with the faculty members.
- Be persistent. “Think about where you see yourself upon completion of the journey. Think about what you need to get to that endpoint.”
- Do research, present at local conferences and pursue grants, fellowships and scholarships.
- Have a good support system.
After finishing her Ph.D., Blount will become an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. “If I didn’t have a vision five or six years ago of where I wanted to be, I’m not sure the University of Cincinnati would be looking at me, because it was the work I’ve done with drop-out prevention, the STEM Early College High School Program and my traveling abroad to Ghana that interested them.”
She credits Dr. Craig Brookins as her mentor for preparing the professoriate. With him, she traveled to Ghana in 2012 and gained more knowledge about the history of African Americans. “Dr. Brookins has been really instrumental in my growth here at NC State.”
Blount provides a final piece of advice: “You have to market yourself and put yourself in a place where you are thinking about where you see yourself in the future and what steps you need to take to get there. Don’t depend on anyone to do this for you; you have to do it yourself.”
Austin Butler is a communications intern in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.