DSU’s Mishoe proudly following in her father’s footsteps

Dr. Wilma Mishoe, right, is sworn in by Gov. John Carney while her sister, the Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige, holds the Bible during Dr. Mishoe’s formal investiture ceremony in December. She became the first female president of Delaware State University. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Just taking a stroll along the sidewalks on the campus at Delaware State University brings memories of carefree, childhood days rushing into Dr. Wilma Mishoe’s consciousness.

Simply put, Delaware State University is home to Dr. Mishoe, who officially became the first female president of Delaware State University on July 1, 2018. She is the daughter of the late Dr. Luna Mishoe, DSU’s longest-serving chief executive, who led then-Delaware State College from 1960-1987, and his wife, Hattie B. Mishoe.

Nowadays, the grounds of Delaware State University offer a much difference perspective for Dr. Wilma Mishoe. However, it is still one that she loves.

“When I came to Delaware State in 1960 there were just cornfields all around,” she said. “There was no College Road looping around (the campus), there was no walking through the campus in the way that students do now, and I’ve seen so many, many buildings go up since we first came here.

“Certainly, I’ve seen the enrollment more than triple. It’s just a whole other city almost for me. This was my childhood neighborhood and we could just run from door to door, house to house, and visit other faculty and their children who grew up with me. It’s quite different today.”

Members of the Mishoe family are not strangers to making history at Delaware State, so it didn’t shock anyone when Dr. Mishoe made some history of her own when she took over as the university’s first female president last summer.

“It means so much to me to be considered the first female president of Delaware State University,” she said. “When someone first asked me that question I very candidly said, ‘Well, I’ve been female all my life, so I never thought about it, being the first …’ But when I stopped to really think about it and considered, number one, that it’s this institution — Delaware State University — the institution that my father was president of for 27 years and where I actually grew up as a child.

Dr. Mishoe is the daughter of the late Dr. Luna Mishoe, DSU’s longest-serving chief executive, who led then-Delaware State College from 1960-1987, and his wife, Hattie B. Mishoe. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“It’s really surreal for me to even think that I would be now the head of this institution. It’s especially special to me. To be honest, it’s an honor for me to serve this institution in this capacity.”

Dedicated to higher education

For Dr. Mishoe, it’s the culmination of a lifelong career in higher education.

In July 2017, Dr. Mishoe was named the first woman to chair DSU’s board of trustees. And when former DSU President Dr. Harry Williams stepped down to become the president with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, she then became the first woman to assume the role of acting president in January 2018.

She brings into the DSU president’s office a total of 35 years as a higher education administrator, mostly at Delaware Technical Community College, where she retired in 2010, and also at then-Wilmington College from 1975 to 1980.

Dr. Mishoe says that to her it’s all about being comfortable with her environment.

“It has gone really smoothly,” she said of her transition to her role as the 11th DSU president.

“I really think that’s probably because all of my professional career has been in higher education, and in this state, with the exception of a year and a half that I was in Ohio (at Wilberforce University). So, I’m comfortable in more ways than one. I’m comfortable in what I’m doing and the kind of work that’s required and I’m comfortable with the environment and the people that I’m serving.

“It doesn’t really feel like a job. It’s great. I’m really enjoying it and I’m loving interacting with the students, employees and seeing people grow and develop.”

Adding to a lasting legacy

Dr. Mishoe is the proud mother of two sons, Roy Sudler, Jr., who serves as a Dover City councilman for the Fourth District, and Travis Mishoe Sudler, who is an instructional coordinator and academic adviser at the Terry Campus of Delaware Technical Community College in Dover.

Roy Sudler beamed with pride when he found out his mother had extended the family legacy at Delaware State University.

“I am very excited for my Mishoe family, especially my mother, who in my eyes is an impeccable lady full of educational knowledge, wisdom and a true servant of the people,” Mr. Sudler said. “I knew that if anyone from our family would be the one to bring the Mishoe leadership back to Delaware State University, that it would be my mother.

Delaware State University President Dr. Wilma Mishoe said she never dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps at DSU. In fact, when she first left for college, she told her parents she would never come back to Dover except to visit.

“This is a true demonstration of her loyalty, obedience and willingness to serve a higher calling then oneself. For now, the entire Mishoe family is very humble and appreciative of this opportunity to serve as the focal point of DSU academia.”

The name “Mishoe” is certainly a revered one around the Delaware State University campus. After all, Luna Mishoe is widely credited with laying the foundation for the institution’s dramatic growth in the decades that followed his tenure as the school’s seventh president. The school recognized his contributions by naming not one — but two — science centers after him.

Gov. John Carney noted the Mishoe family legacy when Dr. Mishoe was elected chair of the DSU board of trustees two years ago.

“The Mishoe family’s legacy is unmatched,” said Gov. Carney. “From Luna Mishoe’s service as a Tuskegee Airman in World War II and his 27-year tenure as president of Delaware State College to Wilma Mishoe’s distinguished career, the family has been committed to service and to expanding access and opportunity through higher education for decades.”

Unexpected return to ‘home’

Surprisingly, Dr. Mishoe said she never dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps at DSU. In fact, when she first left for college, she told her parents she would never come back to Dover except to visit. However, life had different plans, which led her back home.

After Dr. Mishoe came out of retirement to serve as interim president at Wilberforce University, one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the nation, she was again pulled out of retirement in 2017 after Dr. Williams resigned. At first, it was on an interim basis, but not even a half year into her interim role she was approached to take over permanently.

She said the decision to take over as DSU’s president was an easy one. It’s in her blood.

Dr. Mishoe said she hopes two words — “Students First” — will describe her legacy. “I will always be guided by two questions: What is best for students? And, what is best for the institution?”

She said that she remains committed to maintaining Delaware State University’s role as a HBCU. However, that doesn’t mean she’s content.

“It means everything to me,” she said, about DSU’s place as a historically black university. “It’s extremely important. I say all the time that this institution has been a part of this community for 127, almost 128 years now, and we have not reached out beyond where we are currently located.

“I want to see this institution be an integral part of the whole community — the community of Dover, the community of Kent County and the entire state. It means everything to me that we be partners with them.

“It is my vision that Delaware State University becomes a central partner in the growth, development, and life of our entire local, state national and regional community. We have often been referred to as a hidden diamond. Well, hidden or not, diamonds are made to shine.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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