Stories from the Oaks

Autumn Ryan ’24: Discovering the Daughters of Dillard

Mass Communication major and Office of Communications and Marketing intern, Autumn Ryan ’24. Photo: Danielle Miller/Dillard University.

Autumn Ryan ’24
March 27, 2023

Have you ever thought about what it would feel like to have your own month? A special month that celebrates and honors your amazingness. A spectacular month that happens every year and is never forgotten. Well, ladies, I have to tell you all a little secret…Stop dreaming so much because we all have our month and it is Women’s History Month in March.

The celebration of women in history initially started with one week called “Women’s History Week.” It started when Congress passed Public Law 97-28 in 1981 which authorized and requested President Ronald Reagan to proclaim the week of March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” Five years later in 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, which designated the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” In the following years between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the president to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. 

I am overjoyed and thankful that we have a month that celebrates our accomplishments, efforts, and contributions. I had almost forgotten to celebrate myself for a moment, until I had the pleasure of learning about some amazing women who have blessed our Oaks. These women are phenomenal, hard-working, and flourishing. The women I learned about are Glenda McNeal ‘82Nicole B. Thomas ‘94Margarette Purvis ‘95Ayo Davis ‘98Dr. Trivia Frazier ‘07, and Nicole Tinson ‘14. Of course, there are plenty of Dillard alumnae who have done great things, but these are the ones who caught my attention. All of these women are making strides and doing astonishing things in their careers.  

McNeal is the current president of Enterprise Strategic Partnerships at American Express. As president, she defines American Express’s partnership strategy and leads the key initiatives and negotiations for the company’s strategic relationships, including the largest travel, e-commerce, technology, and retail partners. Also, she provides strategic guidance on partnership opportunities and ensures access to key relationships with a focus on delivering revenue growth, creating differentiated value, and improving customer engagement. 

I was elated to learn that a Dillard alumna is helping lead a large and successful company. McNeal recently helped orchestrate a $2 million donation to UNCF, which directly impacts my University. I am grateful for the work that she is doing and proud to walk the same Oaks as her.

Thomas is the president of the Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida. She’s responsible for the operational and strategic direction of the largest hospital in the health system. As president of the Baptist Medical Center, she has the ability and resources to potentially lessen some of the many health disparities faced by Black Americans. This brought me hope because I know she’s doing her best to make the hospital a welcoming and safe space for everyone. 

Purvis also walked these Oaks and became a devoted entrepreneur. She is the founder and CEO of The Charity. This organization helps charities and their boards lead, fundraise, and manage their brand. This is a very unique and important company. I think every company needs help creating the most effective strategies to run their business and promotion. Also, the charities she’s helping will know how to best serve their communities.

Davis, who has been the president of Disney Branded Television since 2021, helps curate content for the Disney Plus streaming platform, which includes Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, and their linear networks with content geared toward kids, tweens, teens and families. She also serves on our Board of Trustees.

While I was a sophomore at Dillard I had the pleasure of being on a zoom call with Davis that was organized by my professors. She discussed her career journey, undergraduate experience at Dillard, and her role as president of Disney Branded Television. At that moment, she became one of my inspirations because there aren’t many black women in high positions in the media industry. She made me feel that I too can have a role in creating similar shows that I enjoyed as a young girl.

Frazier is another extraordinary woman. She is the CEO and president of Obatala Sciences. Her company is a toolkit biotech startup that seeks to dramatically reduce drug development time and cost in the area of obesity, diabetes, and related cancers. Their technology is based on her post-doctoral research on mesenchymal stromal/stem cells and is supported by the National Sanitation Foundation  and the National Institutes of Health. 

Frazier is doing great work by making medicine more accessible to those with common health issues. Medicine should never be overly expensive or in shortage because someone will always need it.

Tinson is the most recent graduate who has excelled as an entrepreneur as well. She is the founder and CEO of HBCU 20×20. Her company is the largest network of HBCU job seekers. Founded on September 11, 2017, HBCU 20×20 is a national diversity and inclusion company that effectively prepares. It connects Black college students and graduates to quality job and internship opportunities while working with over 200 companies looking for support to improve their diversity, recruitment, and retention strategies.

Tinson recently returned to the Avenue of the Oaks to host the HBCU 20X20 lunchroom takeover and pitch competition in February. Students had the chance to pitch their ideas and business plans for a chance to win $1,000 for their business. Psychology major Valesha Rhodes ‘23 won the pitch competition for her business idea, “Mindfulness Over Matter,” which is an organization created to combat mental illness. Tinson isn’t only connecting HBCU students with career resources, but she’s also investing in their businesses. 

Researching Dillard alumnae CEOs brought me down a rabbit hole of learning about so many powerful women who have walked the same Oaks and sat in the same classrooms that I am in. Upon graduating, my goals are to become a cutting-edge reporter to help keep my community informed, and continue to pour into young girls through my mentoring organization, “Sister2Sister.” I am inspired to continue to write my legacy here at Dillard. Tell me how you plan to write your legacy.

Autumn Ryan is junior mass communication major with a concentration in multimedia journalism. An intern in the Office of Communications and Marketing, Ryan is a residential assistant as well as the president of Sister2Sister and Melanin Models.