Born into a lineage of ambition and academic excellence, Paulette C. Walker’s dreams were fueled by the legacy of her parents and grandparents. A third-generation college student – rare for a Black person growing up in the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s – Paulette was the child of a teacher, Helen, and an engineer, Otis.
She graduated high school at 16 and attended Michigan State University with plans to become a pediatrician. Acceptance at a medical school would have been challenge enough for a single Black woman in the 1960s. But when she added marriage to the mix, she knew the odds were stacked against her.
She switched from pre-med to mathematics and had a job even before she graduated.
Paulette became the first Black female systems analyst at the local telephone company, Michigan Bell — owned today by AT&T.
But she felt dissatisfied. She turned to her mother, who encouraged her to apply her love of working with people through teaching.
“Paulette Walker always told me, ‘Never let anyone take the J out of your joy,’” says Diane Briscoe, a former College of Education faculty member. “She is a joyful person. She reminds me of that saying, ‘People don't care what you know, who you know, until they know that you care.’”
Paulette went to work at Highland Park school district, near Detroit, teaching math and science while pursuing her master’s in guidance and counseling. Next, she became the school’s guidance counselor.
With each day, Paulette's dedication to empowering her students and fostering a love for education grew stronger. Along the way, she earned her PhD.
In 1990, she moved to Florida and launched what would become a 21-year tenure at USF’s College of Education. She became a beloved mentor to her students and a respected colleague —a professor and academic advisor, and later, director of undergraduate programs and internship. Her profound impact on the university and generations of students continues to resonate today.
“Paulette Walker cares about those she interacts with, and that's something I believe that I knew all along,” Briscoe says. “She demonstrated that every day and it was a constant reminder of how important that is.”
Beyond her incredible 40-year-career as an educator, Paulette would rise as a beacon of leadership and service as the 25th National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the largest black Greek-letter sorority in the world. From 2013 to 2017, she inspired countless women to strive for greatness and forge lifelong friendships.
“She made a difference and an impact in our organization on so many different levels - community outreach, technology, the whole sisterhood coming together,” says sales executive Joanell Lawson, a former Delta Sigma Theta regional leader.
She retired from USF in 2011 but continues to make a positive impact in the community through her work with organizations such as Moffitt Cancer Center, American Diabetes Association, Tampa’s PACE Center for Girls, and USF, and through her consulting company, where she primarily works with women — particularly women of color.
Paulette is also a proud mother to two sons, Derek and Lenier. Her father has passed, but she remains close to her mother, now 102 years old.
“I really think the world of her, she really is like a sister to me. because we've worked together for so long, our offices were two doors down from each other,” Briscoe says. “I have really appreciated my involvement with her and, just grateful and feel so privileged to have the opportunity to share, my perspective about Dr. Paulette Walker.