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Award Recipient Dr. Toby S. Jenkins, '97

Dr. Toby Jenkins, '97Originally published in September 2013

Dr. Toby Jenkins is paying it forward. As both a cancer survivor and someone who values her educational experiences, she is dedicated to seeing others overcome obstacles and achieve greatness.

“I am extremely surprised and honored,” says Dr. Toby Jenkins, ’97, about receiving the 2013 Outstanding Black Alumni Award.  “To be honored by the major university in my home state is meaningful. Regardless of how much others appreciate you, it is always most meaningful to be appreciated at home. USC gave me a lot. I went to the university on a full academic scholarship. It makes me feel good to see that the investment made in that education is valued and the university feels that I have made them proud.”

Dr. Toby Jenkins is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Diagnosed with both breast cancer and lupus in 2009, Dr. Jenkins is more than just a survivor, but someone who lives with a passion. She has built a career providing key cultural programs and community initiatives to under-represented ethnic markets.

“So 2009 was a very tough year,” Dr. Jenkins says, “but it taught me some incredible lessons: to slow down and make time to take care of myself. Eating well, exercising, resting, and laughing. Our health allows us to be everything that we are: professionals, parents, friends, leaders. You can’t be any of those things if you lose your health. I completely changed my lifestyle. It also taught me to make time for friends and family.”

Friends and family made time for her in her time of need, including her sorority sisters from Delta Sigma Theta at Carolina.

“We pledged 17 years ago, but when I was diagnosed, these women who are spread out all over the country managed to get together and send me one huge care box with a gift and a handwritten personal note from each woman inside,” Dr. Jenkins says. “It was full of their different personalities. One gave a spiritual book, another an outrageous ring so that I could be fabulous during chemo. There were about 28 little gifts like these from the 28 women who pledged with me as young college students in 1996. The love is still there, and we have seen each other through so much in life.”

In addition to her current post, Dr. Jenkins has brought her talents to University of Maryland, Penn State University, and George Masson University.

Impacting Others

Dr. Jenkins, a Columbia native, earned a bachelor of arts degree in public relations from the University of South Carolina in 1997. She received her master’s in college student personnel services from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2000 and completed her doctoral studies in educational theory & policy/social foundations of education at Penn State University in 2007. Dr. Jenkins has spent more than a decade working as an administrator and diversity practitioner in higher education.  

With all of her accomplishments, she is most proud of the effect that she can have on people. This includes a former student named Sammy, whose drug-addicted parents were killed when he was very young. He spent his life in and out of foster care, and at times he was homeless in New York City. Still, he managed to go to college while living in a group home for homeless young adults.

“A close colleague of mine worked at the college and was concerned about what Sammy would do when he graduated and where would he go,” Dr. Jenkins says. “So, I got involved and helped Sammy to get into grad school at Penn State. He served as my graduate assistant there for two years and earned his master’s degree. He is now working as an educational administrator for the same youth advocacy program in which he participated as a teen. That is the ethic behind my work and what I teach--for us to use our talents, achievements, and abilities to help the communities from which we come. Sammy is married with two children and has created a solid career and healthy family life for himself. Knowing that I helped that to happen brings me so much joy.”

Prior to her recent post, she served for four years as an assistant professor of higher education & integrative studies at George Mason. She spent five years at Penn State University, where she oversaw the implementation of the strategic vision for Paul Robeson Cultural Center. This included building a new programming framework to guide the creation and delivery of cultural programs, significant fundraising efforts, student outreach efforts, facility enhancements, and administrative policy changes. Jenkins expanded the cultural center's reach beyond campus and into local, regional, and global communities.

Previously, Jenkins worked at the University of Maryland within academic affairs as assistant director of the Nyumburu Cultural Center. She also served as a Program Manager within the College of Education, conducting research assessment and creating mentoring outreach programs to local K-12 schools in the Institute for Urban and Minority Education. In 2000, Jenkins created the Joint Service Project, bringing together college students, faculty, and staff in service efforts within the local community, and in 2001, she created the Vision Cultural Mentoring Initiative, providing college mentors and interactive cultural experiences for local high-school students at low-performing schools in Prince Georges County. Both programs received honors from the president of the United States and the governor of Maryland.

Dr. Jenkins' past professional experience as a student-affairs staff member with Semester at Sea as well as her individual research projects and studies have taken her to more than 20 countries, including Greece, Spain, Norway, Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, Belgium, Turkey, South Africa, Senegal, England, France, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Trinidad. Additionally, she worked with students from more than 40 countries as the resident-life director for the Johns Hopkins University Office of Summer Programs.