These are just some of the qualities that can be used to describe Tracey L. Wright.
But “Mama” Wright, as she was lovingly nicknamed by the students at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., for being a surrogate mom to the students there, also is professionally accomplished and renowned in the world of higher education. At ASU, Wright had advanced to the position of assistant vice-chancellor for student development before leaving the university after 12 years of service.
“I began as assistant director of multicultural student development, then served as director of multicultural student development before being named assistant vice chancellor,” she said.
In fact, both she and her husband, Dr. Tommy Wright, now the vice president for finance and administration at Cleveland State Community College, worked at ASU until just recently.
She was so well-regarded at ASU at the time she left, she had an award named in her honor from the Black Student Association, called The Wright Award, given to administrators who go above and beyond their normal duties and responsibilities. Wright herself was the first to receive this award for advocacy work on the needs of black students on campus. If they needed counseling with their studies, she would be right there to help guide them in the right direction; if she found out they were partying instead of studying, she would be right there to set them straight; if they were homesick and needed some caring, that’s when Mama Wright stepped in to help.
“I wanted the students to feel welcomed,” she said. “To have someone to talk with ... I had a genuine love and respect for them. I would fight for them.”
Currently, Wright is continuing this love and caring by trying to find ways to raise funds to fully endow the Wright Diversity Scholarship that was created at ASU in honor and recognition of the work she and her husband provided the university. The scholarship — which ASU colleagues established as a going away tribute to the couple — is for sophomore, junior or senior students from underrepresented populations.
“We (both wife and husband) realized a need for this type of advocacy and we decided to act,” she said.
The couple met while both worked at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. They married 14 years ago on June 6. For five years, she was an area coordinator at MTSU for eight residence halls, in charge of staff and overseeing students before both moved for jobs at ASU.
Before working at MTSU, however, Wright taught math for three years — algebra, pre-algebra and traditional math — at a middle school after graduating from MTSU with a bachelor’s degree in math.
“But then I had a wonderful chance to go back to MTSU,” she said. And that’s where her career in higher education administration truly began. This is where she really found her professional calling.
“Going back to my alma mater was the turning point in my life,” she added.
After ASU and moving to Cleveland in July 2010 because her husband got his CSCC position, she became the director of special programs and community relations at Cleveland State in August 2011.
“I’m having an amazing time,” she said. She coordinates, oversees and initiates special events and outreach to the community to energize the campus and its environment. “I’m really excited about CSCC’s potential and having people see the college as a great venue for intellectual presentations, as well as art programs. I’m hopeful to offer a variety.”
For example, Wright recently had Judy Carmichael, a Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, play before a packed house at the campus’ Johnson Building theater.
“She was phenomenal,” Wright said.
But why did she major in math in the first place?
Well, Wright had a wonderful geometry teacher, Mrs. Mary Francis Suggs, in the 10th grade at Dickson High School.
“She was a remarkable educator, very caring and very wise,” Wright said fondly of her beloved mentor. “She inspired me. You could just tell she loved teaching — and loved math — and I wanted to give back in the same way.”
But back to the present.
The couple had always planned on returning to Tennessee so they could both be closer to their families who still live in Tennessee. Wright was born and raised in Dickson. Her husband hails from Birchwood.
“Tennessee is home,” she said, for both of them. Wright was raised by her mom with two sisters — one older and one younger. Her mom’s dad, James Bartlett, only had a first-grade education and could barely write his own name.
“But so many of the things I have valued over time were things he instilled in me,” she said. “His word was his bond. He had a great work ethic. So now, if I say I am going to do something, it’s going to happen to the best of my ability.”
Her grandfather was her first influence stressing the importance of getting a good education.
“As youngsters, he always told us to put something in our heads because that is something that no one can take from you,” she said.
And, as a pre-schooler, when Wright would see her older sister come home from school and help Grandpa read his mail, she couldn’t wait to go to school and learn everything she could.
Grandpa died during Wright’s first year in college, but he lived long enough to watch her graduate from high school and for her to see the pride in his eyes when she did. Wright’s dad died a year later. Her mother, Patty Holt, died in October 2010 at the age of 70.
“She’s supposed to still be here,” Wright offered sadly, reaching for a tissue to dry her eyes. “Mom always encouraged me to do my very best.”
Wright takes after her mom’s penchant for entertaining and expanding her family by hosting parties for students at ASU and now at CSCC. Most recently, the Wrights have hosted exchange students from England who came to CSCC for a 10-day robotics seminar and hosted cast members from the Young American Cast.
“At one time, I didn’t see it,” Wright said, “but that’s my mom. I guess, it’s in the genes. She and Grandpa gave us good genes.”
In addition to all her other responsibilities, Wright has a 22-year-old daughter, Jayma Holt, who is a Vanderbilt University graduate in medicine, health and society and, at the moment, is probably heading for graduate school. Wright also has a second daughter, Jaynae Wright, 10, the couple’s child together, who is in the fifth grade at Waterville Elementary School. Wright is also on the board of Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region, on the Chair-ries Jubilee Committee, the secretary of the Waterville Community Elementary School PTO, and a Girl Scout leader who also oversees the annual Girl Scout cookie sale, which continues this year until March 11.
But how does she get everything done?
She stays up late, she admits, to get all her obligations accomplished. And accomplish them all she does.
“You know what they say, ‘If you want something done, give it to a person who is busy,’ ” she said with a smile.
As for the future, she plans to continue to make a difference in the community.
“In the smallest and broadest sense, I’d like to see a return to a place where civility is the norm and not the exception,” she said. “I’d like to see people open their eyes to the very real issues that still exist in our community that they wish had gone away, but in reality are still here, specifically, racism, poverty and a lack of education — people just turn their heads. These are the three most pressing issues. And if we don’t address them, we’ll see a further deterioration of our society, economy, morals — every aspect of society.”
She hopes and encourages people to become informed, find ways to become involved in organizations and/or volunteer, donate what they can — with money or materials — and also to speak out.
“We have an obligation not to let others walk around in a fog of ignorance,” she said.
For those interested in supporting the Wright Scholarship at ASU, call Traci Royster, coordinator of family services, at the ASU Foundation at 828-262-2879.
To reach Wright or to obtain more information on the Girl Scout program or to buy Girl Scout cookies, call Wright on her cellphone at 715-0911 or email her at email@example.com.