Black Women’s History Month: Dr. Audra Pittman wants you to ‘think about what’s next’

As the vice president of SCAD Atlanta, she works under the school’s visionary and founder Paula Wallace.

by Alison Joyner

As the world evolves into a cohesive space for education today, administrators are trying to find more effective ways to teach the next generation of scholars.

“I think with academia, it’s hard for people to think of the traditional route as becoming assistant professor, associate, then full professor, then you go into administration, I think higher ed is moving away from that,” said Dr. Audra Pittman, Vice President of SCAD Atlanta.

In her third year, Pittman supervises the campus’s academics and administration helping SCAD Atlanta become the fastest-growing institution in the school’s network. SCAD Atlanta now teaches over 3,000 in artistic and innovative concentrations like user experience design, performing arts and brand management.

SCAD Open Studio Night – Nov 1, 2019 & Nov 3, 2017

“Having the experience as a chair going out into the nonprofit world, being an executive director, I knew I could manage and work with not only within the organization but outside the organization and bring those skills here,” Pittman said.

Coming from a family of educators, Pittman tried to figure out how she could balance her two loves — art and education.

Her short time as a middle school art instructor helped her realize that she wanted to teach at the collegiate level instead. She had received her Art Education Ph.D. when a position opened up at SCAD’s Savannah campus.

“I chaired a Master of Arts and teaching program there for several years,” Pittman said, “went through accreditation for both programs and got to know the inner workings of the administration.”

When that chapter ended, Pittman told SaportaReport that she started her family with her husband and opened a studio to figure out what was next. She said she kept in touch with SCAD founder Paula Wallace and she told her about the vice president position at SCAD’s Atlanta campus.

The stigma of white men leading institutions runs rampant across the education industry, Pittman is one of a few African American women leading accredited colleges like SCAD.

Pittman says building a network is important for her to be in leadership and she understands what’s possible being a woman in higher education by looking at Wallace paving the way for future leaders like herself.

dr Audra Pittman pictured with Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter at the SCAD Flash museum. Image provided by SCAD Atlanta.

According to a study from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, African American employees make up less than ten percent of higher education professionals. After observing her mother as assistant provost at UCONN, she saw it first hand.

Most universities are looking for presidents who have a law background, but Pittman thinks that having well-experienced administrators that also have career-driven knowledge of the industries students want to enter is a more effective approach. Bringing veterans into the higher ed sector is one of the ways she interwinds SCAD into the community.

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“We want to be part of the community,” Pittman said, “so whatever the community is going towards or looking forward to as industries and jobs open up, let’s do this.”

The expansion of the school is not only making a mark in the community but reshaping the Midtown skyline. In addition to the original Peachtree facility, SCAD is creating mixed-use buildings for more student involvement and quality of life. The Spring Street residence hall, currently under construction, will be completed in two phases.

Rendering of SCAD Atlanta’s newest residence hall at 1470 Spring Street scheduled to open this fall. Image provided by SCAD Atlanta.

“The first phase has about 500-plus beds opening up in the fall,” Pittman said. “It has a dining hall; there’s going to be a bookstore and parking garage. The second phase has more classroom spaces, fitness center, rooftop pool and an auditorium that seats 700.”

A new concept called the Black box theatre, makes the audience feel like they’re in the performance location and uses a limited number of props. The theater will seat 150 and Pittman thinks hosting local shows there will help gain support in the community.

Across Peachtree, the Digital Media Center, due for completion later this summer, will supply an extended reality (XR) stage for motion media design, students can work shoulder-to-shoulder with industry professionals working on major film projects all over metro Atlanta.

Preparing students for a successful career is a top priority for Pittman. She and the SCAD instructors try to simulate a real-life working environment, exposing them to team project building assignments and enhancing their communication skills.

Rendering of XR stage located at SCAD Atlanta’s new Digital Media Center scheduled to open summer, 2022. Image provided by SCAD Atlanta.

“We want to retain students,” Pittman said. “We want them to get here and create that sense of campus culture that helps students feel connected to the community.”

The SCAD AMP program prepares students to speak in networking or public settings and helps them build the confidence to talk to and impress their future employers.

“If they’re in the airport or at a coffee shop and see the person they want to work for, they are ready to say ‘I want to work for you. Here’s my portfolio. Let me tell you about myself.”

Pittman says this approach of working in the school to get a career is why they have a 99 percent job placement rating within ten months of graduation or continuing their education in the past four years.

Forward-thinking and the willingness to adapt is what Pittman thinks is the secret to SCAD Atlanta’s success.

“We’re always thinking about what’s next,” Pittman said. “I was talking to a group of high school students visiting campus and I said ‘when I was in college, we didn’t have Instagram and Facebook but these weren’t career options. I told them ‘by the time you get here and graduate; there will be jobs that didn’t exist,’ so we’re preparing them for what’s next.”

Exterior of the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art Design.
Credit: SCAD Atlanta

Pittman wants to encourage her students and everyone to keep learning and experiencing new things.

“You want to encourage people to be forever learners. So what you need to think, looking at the structure of design thinking and critical thinking and what you need to do, to understand, to investigate, to research, we put the creative approach to it and I love that we’re so interdisciplinary here .”

SCAD Atlanta is currently accepting applications for their fall quarter. To enroll, log onto them site.

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