Photos taken by Kee’Ara Smith
Georgia Southern University is home to many powerful women. From professors to department chairs to students, each of these women offer something extraordinary and special to the Georgia Southern campuses. Elizabeth Desnoyers-Colas is just one of these accomplished, powerful women. Here is her story.
While she was in the military, Elizabeth Desnoyers-Colas, Ph.D, communication studies coordinator at Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Campus, had the opportunity to teach a speech class, and some people suggested that she become a full-time professor.
However, Desnoyers-Colas said the caveat was that she had to go back to school and get her Ph.D.
Before she took early retirement to earn her doctorate—something that took four and a half years—Desnoyers-Colas was in the air force for almost 16 years. Desnoyers-Colas held the position of a Public Affairs Officer.
“I did a lot of speech writing for senior military officials, served as a newspaper editor for military bases a couple of times,” said Desnoyers-Colas. “I went to Desert Storm. I went to Saudi Arabia for a few months. I did what we call community relations: a lot of base tours, a lot of special event planning, so anything that you could think of that had to do with public relations or any type of media relations, I did that.”
Desnoyers-Colas also set up press conferences and had the opportunity to meet a lot of famous people, including a lot of congressmen and senators and even George H.W. Bush when he was the vice president.
She’s been awarded numerous medals, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, and the Humanitarian Service Award.
Desnoyers-Colas said she had a lot of unique opportunities when she was in the military, but she retired because she wanted to teach.
Desnoyers-Colas earned her doctorate in Communication with an emphasis in Intercultural/International Communication from Regent University, her master’s degree in Communication from Regent University, and her bachelor’s degree in Mass Media/Journalism from Central Washington University.
Desnoyers-Colas joined the Armstrong campus as an assistant professor in 2005 and has been a part of the university since.
“At the time when I saw the job listing, it was to develop undergraduate and graduate courses in communication because there wasn’t a communications program on the Armstrong campus, and they were starting a new grad program that was an interdisciplinary graduate program that has four tracks, and one of the tracks was going to be communication.”
Desnoyers-Colas thought the job listing was great and was drawn to Armstrong. She also thought coming back to Georgia was a good thing because she would be close to home with Georgia being her father’s home state and her mother living in Florida.
Desnoyers-Colas said the program is up to their second year, and they’ve doubled the number of students in the program at the Armstrong campus.
Desnoyers-Colas said she had the opportunity to be President of the Faculty Senate at Armstrong from 2014-2016. She describes this as one of her proudest achievements because she was the only woman and minority to do so.
Desnoyers-Colas was also Chair and Past-Chair of the University System of Georgia’s Faculty Council. Additionally, she also holds the position of Faculty Coordinator for Men of Vision and Excellence (MOVE), which is an African American Male FYE Initiative. Desnoyers-Colas also served as the National Communication Association Women’s Caucus Third Chair in 2017.
Even though she’s busy, she enjoys what she does.
She’s also proud of the communication courses she’s developed because they are the backbone classes of the communication studies program, and she continues to develop new courses every semester.
Additionally, Desnoyers-Colas is the author of the book “Marching as to War: Personal Narratives of African American Women’s Experiences in the Gulf Wars.”
Desnoyers-Colas said she grew up as a “ military brat” and traveled a lot because her dad was in the army.
She said it was great because she had the chance to meet a lot of great people, travel and see the world, but part of it also was tough because, since you’re traveling and moving so much, you don’t really have the opportunity to make the friends you really need to and hold onto them.
Desnoyers-Colas said she can walk into a room and talk with and meet people because she’s used to doing that, so she’s not tied to just one particular scene and has the opportunity to meet as many people as she can.
However, she attributes this to being a communicator—because she’s had to communicate with so many people.
“Growing up the way I did also gave me a great appreciation for what this country is all about or what it means to people all over the world,” said Desnoyers-Colas. “You know, people talk about the US and things that we do and things that we don’t do, but the most beautiful thing that you’ll ever see is driving from one end of this country to the other end.”
Desnoyers-Colas said she did this many times as a military kid and as an adult and that she has a great appreciation for who we are as Americans.
While Desnoyers-Colas wanted to teach, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a professor full-time until she started teaching different courses and working on her Ph.D.
“Students would say things to me like ‘you know, you’re the first African American professor I’ve ever had,’ and these were African American students that said ‘I’ve never had an African American professor before’ and … so people would kind of encourage me to get into the field, and, knowing that in my career field there was only 2 percent [of] African Americans who had their terminal degree, I thought it would incumbent upon me to do something like this in order for more African American students to see people who looked like them and sounded like them, and, you know, worked in the discipline,” said Desnoyers-Colas.
Desnoyers-Colas enjoys teaching now, and no one could pull her out of it now, but she questioned herself her first couple of years teaching.
“I do believe teaching and being a professor is a life-long learning type of experience but not just with the knowledge but having the experiential relationship and being a lifelong advocate for the people that you teach.”Elizabeth Desnoyers-Colas
She said knowledge and passion are the most important things when it comes to her job.
“To me, the most important thing is for me to know my discipline, know the theories, know all of the scholarship, I think that’s important,” said Desnoyers-Colas. “Also, I have to show a passion for it. I think one thing students complain about a lot is that professors don’t show passion for what they teach, you know we spend a lot of time learning it, but we don’t necessarily show a lot of passion for it, so I try to show students how much passion I have for communication.”
Desnoyers-Colas feels it’s incumbent upon her to be the best communicator possible and to teach people to be the best communicator possible.
“I tell my students that communication is the fundamental building block of every discipline,” said Desnoyers-Colas. “You cannot go through any discipline and succeed without first learning how to communicate.”
Desnoyers-Colas believes her students would describe her as firm but fair, humorous and an advocate for them.
“I try to figure out ways to be able to help students, to make sure that their needs are met,” said Desnoyers-Colas. “I think they will feel that I actually care about them, which I believe is important.”
“But, also, I do think that students know that, way after they leave my classroom, if you call me four, five, six, seven years down the road and say you need a letter of recommendation or you need some advice about something, that you can call me and I’ll answer you, and thankfully I’ll be able to provide you with that information,” said Desnoyers-Colas.
Maya Harper, graduate assistant for the office of multicultural affairs, said Desnoyers-Colas pushed her to get more involved in different organizations on campus and was one of the professors who made Harper want to go into communication.
“The way she teaches and the way she motivates you makes you want to do more,” said Harper.
Derenzo Thomas, graduate assistant for the office of multicultural affairs, oversees the MOVE organization. He said he saw a workshop for MOVE where Desnoyers-Colas talked about classroom readiness and college success while giving her personal experience of earning her undergrad, masters, and Ph.D degrees.
“It really encouraged a lot of us within the Men of Vision and Excellence group to continue to further our education,” said Thomas.
Harper said Desnoyers-Colas impacts the Armstrong campus by giving her time.
“She doesn’t mind coming out to speak at different events or be on different panels because she wants to be able to affect students in a positive way,” said Harper. “She’s never not available for us.”
Harper added that, whenever they need her, she’s willing to be there for them, gives different advice and pushes them to do more. Desnoyers-Colas is also one of the reasons why she decided to work as a graduate assistant for the office of multicultural affairs–because she pushes her to want to do more.
Takeshia Brown, director of the office of multicultural affairs, said Desnoyers-Colas was instrumental to launching the MOVE program pre-consolidation.
Brown said Desnoyers-Colas works closely with the gentlemen in the organization and that she teaches them academically how to interact with professors, how to advocate for themselves as students, how to make a space for themselves on campus and what that looks like in terms of being a successful student.
Brown said Desnoyers-Colas celebrates the members’ good moments and supports them in their challenging moments.
“Students love her,” said Brown. “They love the way she shows up for them, supports them and advocates them. They really see her as an asset and as someone who really cares about them.”
Desnoyers-Colas asked about Brown’s professional and personal goals when they first met. Desnoyers-Colas still asks about these goals and and challenges Brown in good ways to make sure she supports her goals.
“The way she supports students is very admirable. Learning about her journey to becoming a professor and all the things she’s done in life and her service, and her bravery has really impacted me in several ways,” said Brown.
Mckenzie Peterman, assistant director of the office of multicultural affairs, met Desnoyers-Colas in 2012 when she started working at Armstrong and talked to her about how Desnoyers-Colas got her start and where she started from. Peterman also got to know Desnoyers-Colas more when working as assistant director for graduate admissions for Armstrong because Desnoyers-Colas was on her search committee. They talked and found out they had a similar bond in Public Relations.
“She’s also very motivating. She always gives that nice gentle nudge when something’s not going the way that it probably should go,” said Peterman.
Peterman added that Desnoyers-Colas is not afraid to let her know that she could probably be doing something in a different way.
Desnoyers-Colas influenced Peterman to make sure she was holding herself and people she works with accountable and how to do it in an impactful way.
Peterman said all MOVE members meet with Desnoyers-Colas, and she “helps them to navigate life on campus as far as the tough discussions and how to approach a professor if there’s an issue and about classroom etiquette and etiquette outside the classroom as far as … being impactful…and helping students advocate for themselves, and also she serves as an advocate for them.”
Desnoyers-Colas said she’s had to overcome many obstacles to become successful.
“I think, as a woman, you have to be able to overcome sexism. As a black woman, I had to overcome racism where people not believing that I either had the ability or the intellect to do something because I was black. And, of course, that doubles when you’re a woman.”Elizabeth Desnoyers-Cola
Desnoyers-Colas said racism and sexism are the two biggest things she’s had to overcome. However, she’s also learned that you have to be able to believe in yourself.
“You’ve got to believe in your abilities to be the best you can be,” said Desnoyers-Colas.
She also learned that she had to accept failure. While Desnoyers-Colas said it took her a while to accept that she wasn’t able to do certain things she wanted to, like not being as tall as she wanted to play basketball, she saw it as giving her the opportunity to do other things she wanted to do.
Desnoyers-Colas had very supportive parents who believed in her ability to be whoever she wanted to be.
Her mother influences her the most. Desnoyers-Colas describes her mother as the greatest, spiritual, a prayer warrior and someone who supports and believes in her three kids 100 percent.
“She grew up during a time where, you know, the first two words in her life she learned how to read were white [&] colored,” said Desnoyers-Colas. “But she saw us past racism and saw us into believing in who we are as people.”
Desnoyers-Colas said, while she admires some celebrities and political figures, at the end of the day, her mom is her hero.
“Watching her go through life and having her tell us the stories of struggle she had where people didn’t believe in her as a person, you know, taught me that I didn’t really have anything to complain about,” said Desnoyers-Colas. “That, really, I stand on her shoulders being able to make myself strong, and so I think my mom is absolutely my hero of all.”
Desnoyers-Colas describes herself as a religious person and said her life philosophy is to treat people how you want to be treated and to treat people well.
She said she’s a living witness to this and doesn’t see a reason to be mean to people. Desnoyers-Colas said she will try to help whenever she can or find a way to help someone.
Desnoyers-Colas said her belief system is the most important thing when it comes to her life.
She said it keeps her rooted, grounded and focused. While Desnoyers-Colas said she doesn’t thrust her religious beliefs on people, she does say you need something to believe in: a core belief or core value.
“How do you keep yourself above the fray?” said Desnoyers-Colas. “You have to have something you believe in.”
Desnoyers-Colas offered some advice.
“If you cannot find yourself in one major, explore another major or explore a couple of minors. Try to find yourself in your passion of what you want to learn and what you believe. There are so many people on our three campuses that are living their parents’ dreams, that are living the dreams of people saying ‘oh, you should be this’ or ‘oh, you should be this’ … and so what is it at the end of the day you really want to be?”
Desnoyers-Colas said she knows this is a question people spend a lifetime asking you, but sometimes it take more time than others to grow up.
Desnoyers-Colas said to make all the friends you can, take classes, and become involved in different activities on-campus “and then once you walk across that stage, you’ll know that you’ve had the experience of a lifetime.”
“Treat your college experience as the greatest experience of your life,” said Desnoyers-Colas.
Desnoyers-Colas described her proudest achievement.
“I think my proudest achievement is actually watching students walk across the stage … my achievements are invested within the students. I mean, there are so many success stories that I could tell all about student lives.”Elizabeth Desnoyers-Cola