Profession: Vice president for external affairs, Southern University and A&M College
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Family: Single, but a villager for many young people (as in “it takes a village to raise a child”)
Years with company: 24
With more than 20 years under her belt at Southern University, Vice President of External Affairs Robyn Merrick is, in many ways, the face of the institution. She’s spent much of her career developing transformational initiatives that build awareness and support for Southern, one of the country’s best known Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Merrick brings years of management experience and strategic thinking to the job, but when you ask what fuels her success, she says it’s something simple.
“The students. It really is all about them,” says Merrick. “It’s a very emotional day when they graduate. Many of them are first generation college students, and when you see whole sections of their families cheering for them, it makes you tear up.”
A Baton Rouge native and Scotlandville Magnet High School alumna, Merrick earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public administration from Southern before embarking on a career in higher education, later earning a Ph.D. in public policy also from the university. Merrick has worked in a number of capacities at her alma mater, including serving as the first ever female director of alumni affairs. Merrick substantially grew the department’s communication infrastructure, modernizing its methods of outreach and improving its social media strategy. She helped expand the number of Southern alums reachable by email from 700 to 30,000.
In her current capacity, Merrick directs alumni affairs, communications, governmental relations and special events at Southern’s campuses in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport. She also oversees the university’s Museums of Art in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, which hold significant collections of African-American art. Another museum is under development in New Orleans, where the university has one of the few museum studies graduate programs in the country that can be completed in person or online.
Merrick has been intent on expanding Baton Rouge’s awareness of Southern’s significant history and programs, and improving the university’s relationships.
“Universities can be really insular,” says Merrick. “Sometimes you can get caught up in what’s going on inside the institution and forget about how important it is to connect to the public.”
Merrick recently established two programs, SU Smiles and SU Cares, which weave stronger connections between the academy and its constituents. SU Smiles is a customer service program that assessed and evaluated employees on customer service through an online survey completed by students, parents, alumni and visitors. The survey remains live. It enabled Merrick and her team to pinpoint areas of customer service improvement and address them through targeted training. The project has already led to a drop in customer service complaints by almost 20%.
SU Smiles, says Merrick, is a way to connect Southern’s employees with service opportunities in Baton Rouge. Merrick is a prolific volunteer, donating time to Friends of LPB, Girl Scouts of Louisiana East, Volunteers in Public Schools, WRKF, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, The Links and many other organizations. In 2018, the university held a first-ever community service bazaar in conjunction with the annual employee benefits fair. About 30 nonprofits participated and many employees signed up to serve.
“I can’t imagine life without volunteering,” says Merrick, who recalls selling homemade Easy-Bake Oven cakes as a child to raise money for muscular dystrophy. “This was a great way for us to connect our employees with community we sit in.”
1994: Earns the opportunity to participate in the Summer of Service
1995: Begins career at Southern University as assistant to the vice chancellor for administration
2003: Is appointed to the position of director of public affairs
2010: Advances to the job of director of alumni affairs and executive director, Southern University Alumni Federation (SUAF)
2012: The SUAF earns the distinction of National HBCU Alumni Association of the Year
2016: Earns Ph.D. in Public Policy
2017: Is named a Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction
Proudest business achievement
Enhancing the engagement of alumni at Southern University. We have incredibly passionate alumni throughout the state, nation, and world, and we have had the opportunity to harness that passion for greater support to the university.
Who inspires you
My parents inspired me by their teamwork, love and desire to provide a positive life for our family. As I matured, I realized how amazing they were despite the challenges they faced. Looking towards the future, SU students inspire me daily with their talents and aspirations to learn and discover. It is so rewarding to see students years after they graduate and see their successes.
Necessary workplace change
Two words: Equal pay. And, that’s not just for the women in Baton Rouge, but everywhere. It is long overdue. Period.