Men and women from Pittsburgh’s African American community have influenced the region – and the world – with impressive contributions to music, arts and culture, literature, journalism, sports and more. Many names are well known, but Pittsburgh is also home to many unsung African American heroes who are quietly making marks of their own and making the region a better place for residents of all races. As part of an occasional series, ImaginePittsburghNow.com is recognizing outstanding Pittsburghers and their good work in business, public service and academia with a series of short profiles. Dr. Erroline Williams was suggested by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania. Suggestions for other individuals to recognize may be sent to bpfister@alleghenyconference.org.

Dr. Erroline Williams

Dr. Erroline Williams is the director of professional development at Duquesne University’s School of Leadership and Professional Advancement,  which offers educational opportunities for adults to enhance their impact and advancement potential. The school works with individuals and organizations to understand and respond to the needs of the adult learner with high-quality, relevant and interactive learning in flexible and easily accessible formats.

What is your job? What for you is the best part of your work?

My responsibilities as director include designing, developing and implementing customized training programs. I provide intensive needs-analysis and blended training products for companies and nonprofit organizations. I also manage the Executive Certificate in Financial Planning program and several other professional development programs at the university.

The best part of my work is two-fold: I engage and collaborate with various companies and professionals, and I also get to design and develop programs – from start to finish – which I very much enjoy.

Why Pittsburgh? What are Pittsburgh’s unique advantages?

I was born and raised in East Liberty and attended Westinghouse High School. My roots here are strong, and I’ve always believed that Pittsburgh would grow from being largely a “steel town” into what we now have. Pittsburgh today is a mecca for education, cutting-edge health care advances and state-of-the-art technology.

What opportunities have proven most helpful in your career in Pittsburgh? What barriers have you experienced?

I have been blessed with many opportunities. I worked in the corporate environment throughout the management ranks at Verizon Communications. Later I made a career change to the educational field, working first at the University of Pittsburgh and now at Duquesne University.

I was fortunate to complete my bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working full time at Verizon. I then began doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh where I completed my Ed.D. I have always been a lifelong learner, and I continue to encourage others – both young and old – to pursue their educational goals.

Any barriers that I’ve experienced would include the dilemma about how to merge my work ethic and my educational goals with a need to become visible and to promote my strengths and capacity to lead.

What are the biggest barriers to recruiting and retaining African American professionals in the Pittsburgh region? What could people in the business community do to make it easier?

Barriers could include an environment that’s not extremely welcoming and the challenge of a deficit of opportunities for advancement. Similarly, not having enough occasions to tap in to the higher education achievements of African Americans or to encourage collaborations among African Americans could be barriers. There often is a noticeable disconnect among African Americans in Pittsburgh. We must intentionally reach out to each another, professionally and personally, to foster a collaborative spirit. We also need to “lift as we climb” to promote each other’s stellar abilities, talents and relationships.

What advice can you share with younger African Americans – either students or young professionals – about finding a rewarding job/career? What are the most concrete bits of advice that you wish you had heard at that time in your life?

I strongly recommend that young African American students and professionals seek mentors. Multiple mentors are advantageous. Some can support and catapult careers, while others can guide and provide the necessary emotional or social support.  Mentoring is a big part of my academic, professional and personal life.  I’m a mentor for Tomorrow’s Future, Inc., the non-profit mentoring, entrepreneurial and job-training program for teens, founded by community champion and State Farm Agent Grace Robinson.

Growing up in East Liberty, I had a strong extended family unit, and I owe much credit to many individuals. These include my mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, teachers, a school crossing guard and others who advised and guided. They all instilled an extremely strong sense of confidence in me and taught me to walk and talk with a tremendous amount of self-respect. Self-respect, I learned, causes others to respect me.

The bit of advice that I would have liked to have heard when I was young was that progress for African Americans in the Pittsburgh region can very slow. Achieving advancement, upward mobility and overall connectedness can take time and requires perseverance.