The Impact, Reach, and Heart of Dr. Harper’s Work

Dr. Valerie Harper sitting in office smilingThe beauty and power of Dr. Valerie Harper's work are not only in the difference she has made in the lives of others, but how she makes that difference - it is simply by being who she is. Whether she is on campus with a law student, advising a colleague on mentoring a student, organizing food and clothing drives for those in need, or bringing a runway show from Dress for Success to a women's shelter, Dr. Harper has a gracious and unyielding commitment to listen with deep sincerity and openness to understand and truly see the person across from her so she can use all her facilities to help her neighbor, whoever they may be and whatever their situation. Dr. Harper believes, "The only way you can have transformation is to be transparent." She has lived this belief through herself and the work she has done all her life. That work has had an exponential outreach. This piece takes a moment to honor her and her work during Black History Month.

Currently, Dr. Valerie Harper is the Registrar of Duquesne University's Law School where she manages all the administrative, financial, personnel, and student record aspects of the Office of the Law School Registrar. Also, in this role, Dr. Harper continues her work by advising others, most of whom are students looking to connect with a mentor of color.

When Dr. Valerie Harper stepped onto campus over 20 years ago in her first position as Assistant to the Resident Director in the Office of Resident Life, she was only 1 of approximately 5 African American administrators on campus. She faced racism. She would tell herself to keep being who she is and people would begin to see her - and they did. She also taught others to really see people as well. She knew she had the skills, care, and insight to help students and advise mentees to reach their goals, so she knew education was the right place for her. Also, she knows she has the insight and understanding to strive toward creating an equitable community. In each of her positions on campus, this was at the heart of her work at Duquesne from the Assistant to the Resident Director of Resident Life, to Academic Counselor, to Career Counselor, to Adjunct Professor for the Spiritan Division as well as a summer adjunct at Carnegie Mellon University, to currently being the Director/Registrar of the Law School's Registrar Office.

There are common problems of inequities across society that are pervasive locally and across the globe, but to really advise Dr. Harper reflects, one needs to find out how to build bridges to connect with individuals across differences through authenticity, understanding, and empathy. Dr. Harper studied how to best do this in her dissertation while a student in the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program. Being a servant leader (as defined by Robert Greenleaf), she studied and built upon the concept of Appreciative Education and a book titled, The Appreciative Advising Revolution, written by Dr. Jennifer Bloom in which the advisor expands the lens of view on the student, not just looking at the student's academic life, but at the student holistically, who they are and where they want to go because to advise is to connect and to connect is to embrace the entirety of the person next to you especially African American students who matriculate into PWIs. Dr. Harper added a couple more reflections to this concept, which was to turn the lens back on the advisor themselves - the advisor also needs to examine themselves and implicit biases, especially through the perspective of systemic racism and the power of words. Dr. Harper's dissertation in Ed.D. Educational Leadership, just completed over a year ago, has reached hundreds of colleges and professionals across the U.S. and spanning the globe including Canada, Bermuda, Spain, Finland, and the Russian Federation looking for her insight and work she has studied and built upon regarding appreciative advising. Since history is socially constructed, her historical relevance approach to her topic with memory, a faculty for storing information, and its development through the Cycle of Socialization framework leaves us with the knowledge of how the academic advising system has the power within the space to derail a dream or to empower one to complete the dream.

Thank you, Dr. Harper, for your unyielding and heartfelt work to help others and make a difference here at Duquesne, in the community, and across the world.