Compassionate. Influential. Insightful. Inspirational. These are a few of the words that friends and colleagues have used to describe Dr. Joan Prince. Her titles and accolades are impressive. Ph.D. Vice Chancellor Emeritus. Delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Senior Advisor to the Department of the State. I had the privilege and pleasure to sit down with Dr. Prince and discovered that, more than anything, she is driven by a deep belief that everyone deserves the same opportunities to succeed.
“Regardless of your race, gender, age or whatever, you have a right to be here. You have a right to the best that life can offer you. Education is a priority in helping you get there,” she told me.
Prince looks back to her childhood, growing up in the city of Milwaukee during the civil rights movement, and recalls the public library where her love of learning and education began. She acknowledges the obstacles she encountered and says she vowed that when she got to a place where she could make a difference, she would work to remove those obstacles for those behind her.
This drive has been the hallmark of her career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) where she has worked tirelessly to level the entrance and retention points for historically underrepresented students and staff in many sectors, particularly education, medical school admissions, STEM disciplines and higher education.
“The opportunity to succeed, be your best and do your best is for everyone,” she says.
UWM made a commitment to partner authentically and transparently. For Prince, her work as the university’s Vice Chancellor of Global Inclusion and Engagement was the chance to advocate for education equity and help others on their journey. Relentlessly working to ensure equal access to opportunities, scholarship, materials and support, Prince has attended 40 graduations. She is most proud of these celebrations with young people who are filled with hope and ready to take on what’s next.
I always felt proud at that moment, watching them cross that stage, throwing those hats up in the air, and knowing that when they came in, I was the floor to their ceiling,” she says. “I was able to push them up and actually, they have no ceiling. That’s what I am the most proud of.”
Prince sees a hope-filled future not only for young people in the city but also for Milwaukee and the region, with College Possible playing a key role. As leaders look to address worker shortages in critical areas, especially those where a college degree is needed, College Possible is a meaningful part of the work underway. We know that College Possible scholars are three times more likely to earn a degree than their peers. We also know that youth who graduate from college in Wisconsin often stay in the region. Prince believes that we need to be a community that is ready to employ them and create a space where they can live, work and be happy.
“That’s the meaning of College Possible for me,” she says. “It’s helping an individual with their dreams and building a strong region.”
As Prince pointed out, college is always possible but sometimes people need help filling in the gaps where life didn’t provide the resources. It’s in preparing youth for that journey that College Possible plays a part. For those who declare their intent to attend college, College Possible is there to take their hand and walk them through all the opportunities — to fill in the gaps — so they can continue to their destination.
“You don’t need to know the person you are advocating for, you just need to advocate,” she notes.
This year, it is our pleasure to present Dr. Prince with a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her extraordinary service to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her relentless advocacy for education equity. For too long, far too many college-capable students from limited-income backgrounds have failed to earn admission to – and graduate from – college. Inspired by Dr. Prince’s leadership and the care and compassion she has shown, we are working to ensure that a scholar’s future is determined solely by their talent, motivation and effort.