Dr. Julie Lessiter

In Lola Shreveport, Louisiana Ladies, Megann McDaniel by Lola Magazine

Megann McDaniel, another great leader in the area, recently sat down with Dr. Lessiter to discuss her role at LSUS and how other women can step into their own and find their positive vibe.

Dr. Julie Lessiter is the Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives at LSU Shreveport.  She has served in multiple roles in her 25-year career in higher education; currently, she has oversight of the recruitment and enrollment of students, online learning activities, workforce development programming, summer school pipeline camps, and strategic partnerships with the industry.  

As a first-generation college student, Dr. Lessiter channels her passion and energy into creating programming and pathways for students to earn academic credentials that help increase their economic and social mobility.  She understands the challenges presented by, and the opportunities to be gained from educational attainment and has helped mentor many students through their educational journey.  Her greatest joy comes from seeing former students become successful in their life pursuits.

So, Julie, you have a lovely accent, but it is not a Louisiana accent.  Tell me more about where you’re from and what brought you to Louisiana.

Yes Megann, thanks! I’m originally from England, a town called Southampton.  I ended up coming to the United States on a tennis scholarship back in 1994.  That was before the internet, so the American coaches would call and recruit you over the phone.  I really liked the coach at Northwestern State University, so decided to attend NSU in Natchitoches.  My perception of the U.S. was based purely on the tv shows I had watched:  Beverly Hills 90201, and Doogie Howser and I quickly discovered that not everything in America was like that – but I loved Natchitoches and now call it my second home.

Wow. Ok, so now we know what brought you here, but you’re clearly a woman with options; you’re very successful, very educated.  What keeps you here? 

For me it’s the people, I spent a couple of years in Arkansas working at a university, and although it was a great experience, I missed the people here.  As well as the people, it’s the thought that I can have an impact in this region to help others change their lives through education.  I have a great passion to help kids realize they can chase after their dreams, and they can have career opportunities that maybe they never thought they’d be able to have – that really motivates me to stay and try to have a positive impact in this community.  I also have a great set of friends here who are all high achievers, and we inspire and push each other every day to continue to be better people.

Great.  So, tell me something you are excited about.  What are you most excited about personally, and then professionally? 

Well – lots to be excited about on both fronts.  I’ve recently started playing more tennis again, I stopped for a long time and got into triathlons and running, doing some crazy Ironman races or marathons.  But this journey I’ve been on to see how far I can push myself and how well I can perform in tennis again has been really refreshing and has given me a renewed sense of purpose.

Professionally I love how I get to be creative in my role as Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives at LSU Shreveport and can build programs that help students for future careers.  We’ve built out some really neat spaces for hands-on experiential learning for students, we’ve created some new programs that are designed for careers in new technologies, it’s been fun looking out to the future and predicting where technology will take us and providing the programming not just in our degree programs, but also in our upskilling workforce development.

So LSUS, which I’m a proud alumna for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, seems to have really expanded and evolved over the past few years.  Can you tell me more about this growth and where you see LSUS in the near and distant future? 

Well, I encourage everyone I know that has ever been out to our campus, or maybe hasn’t ever stepped foot on campus but has this perception of who or what we are, that they need to come out and I’ll give them a personal tour. It’s not the LSUS it was 10 or even 5 years ago. We have transformed this campus.  Like I said earlier, we have built lots of engaging hands-on learning environments. We are spinning-up new programs that are current and relevant to this generation, and future careers, and most importantly we’re having fun. Lots going on, as we continue to build and evolve.

So, I’ve noticed LSUS has a lot of female leaders, which is refreshing.  How did this come about?  What advice would you give to other females looking to move into leadership roles? 

Yes! All of our vice-chancellors are female and we have many other administrative leadership positions held by females.  Our Chancellor really values diversity of thought and perspective and under his leadership many of us have moved into leadership roles.  It’s interesting to note that when you look at the students graduating with the highest gpa’s, winning “student of the year” it’s mostly female, and so I really see this transition for women having the confidence and opportunity to move into leadership positions.  For future leaders I’d say, definitely keep learning and growing; and perhaps more importantly be resilient.  If you don’t get chosen for a position, or if you launch a business and it fails, learn from those experiences, and be better prepared for the next time.  Also, believe in the thought that success is built on a team not an individual so surround yourselves with people who have complimentary skills. That takes a lot of self-reflection to identify your own personal strengths and more importantly your weaknesses.

So that’s some advice for current and future leaders; what advice would you give yourself if you could go back and tell college-age Julie something? 

I think about this often.  Perhaps it would be to stress less and enjoy the moment.  I think many of us, as high achievers, tend to be overly focused on the outcome of an event or moment instead of enjoying the journey; perhaps that’s still some good advice even for me today.

So earlier before we started this conversation, we talked about “your vibe attracts your tribe” and so I’m going to end this by saying that I am very proud and honored to say that you’re part of my tribe because if you are in any way a reflection of me and who I am then I know I’m doing the right thing.  So, I’m going to leave that with you guys and just remind other people to find their positive tribe.