In January 2016, Dr. Constance Iloh made major waves as one of the only academics and scholars ever placed among the illustrious breakout talents, young entrepreneurs, and changemakers on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Now Dr. Constance Iloh is making history at the University of California – Irvine, becoming its first Black tenure-track professor in the School of Education (a U.S. News & World Report Top 25 Ranked Graduate School of Education). In July, Dr. Iloh will receive the Face2FaceAfrica YACE Award and Fellowship for being a young trailblazer and innovative thinker in education.
But just who is this 29-year-old academic luminary and breakout star? Professor Iloh is a gifted researcher and anthropologist of education who examines the changing landscape of higher education and its impact on underserved students. Having studied business prior to earning her PhD in urban education policy at the University of Southern California, she brings a unique and interdisciplinary lens to education research.
Professor Iloh distinguished herself at USC, becoming the first from its Rossier School of Education to receive the PhD Achievement Award – the highest honor given to any USC PhD holder. She also received Rossier’s Dissertation of the Year Award and the USC Remarkable Woman Award. Iloh flourished on the academic job market, receiving multiple tenure-track faculty job offers. She deferred the faculty appointment she accepted at the University of California – Irvine after receiving the prestigious UC Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Program Fellowship.
Professor Iloh’s innovative research on college access and the privatization of higher education has been cited in multiple spaces, including the Harvard Law Review, and featured in numerous media including Forbes, The Chronicle of Higher Education, For Harriet, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and National Public Radio (NPR). Dr. Iloh has been an invited speaker for the Hammer Museum, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and even the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans to name a few. She now has a research grant exploring online learning in vocational higher education.
Dr. Iloh’s forthcoming book on 21st century college-going will be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. At the time we reached out to Dr. Iloh she had just published an ethnography of the controversial for-profit college sector in the esteemed American Educational Research Journal.
But what is her secret? In her message to young Africans, Dr. Iloh tells Face2Face Africa:
“I am openly walking by faith and living my dreams in color. I try not to define myself by conventional ideas of success because purpose is bigger than that.”
“If I have any advice to offer, I would say never be afraid to let your light shine. I think this is especially important for women and people of color because so many spheres of life aim to limit and minimize us when we are destined to be greater than any box we could be put in. There were times I felt as though I needed permission to do things when I forgot it was God who positioned me in this space for a purpose. As long as God is my compass I trust I am going in the right direction.”
“There is also this tendency to overlook the importance of our unique identities and approaches in spaces like the academy. As a Black millennial woman who is digitally engaged (for example)…I’m changing how the professoriate looks in meaningful ways. By researching the most underserved students and understudied sectors in postsecondary education, I am bringing into focus the realities of 21st century education. Rather than shy away from what makes you different, embrace how God made you different. So many people reach out to me regarding how the little things about my identity or research mean so much in shifting the common image of an intellectual. That’s really cool. It’s all about disrupting narratives through who we are and what we do.
I think sometimes people see the recognition but they don’t know your story and the support and sacrifices of your village. They don’t know the nights I was in my high school library writing Gates Millennium Scholarship essays for college until the custodian had to close up, while my mom waited in the car after a long day of work. They don’t see the years, months, days, hours, and minutes of work you have put in to grow, excel, and stretch yourself as a scholar and what it’s really like to be you in the academy. I’m grateful for purpose because it keeps me moving and motivated. As long as there is something to learn, important research to share, narratives to bring to the forefront, and educational and societal conditions to change, there is no reason to stop. There will never be a reason good enough to give up.
Dr. Iloh is evidence that the Black/African woman is most capable of competition on the world stage. She will stand as an intellectual icon in the recent history of Africa and as a one-of-a-kind thought leader in education! We look forward to reading her forthcoming book and watching Professor Iloh continue to soar! You can learn more about this brilliant scholar at http://www.constanceiloh.com.