Meet Tahirah Walker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Organizational Development and Innovation Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Photo by Randall Coleman.
"I want students to know that if you take my class or come to an event I'm putting on, my number one goal is to make you laugh. I absolutely believe in the power of joy."
Tahirah Walker, Ph.D., is a new assistant professor of organizational development and innovation in the Department of Community Engagement & Leadership in the Rowland School of Business at Point Park University. Prior to joining the faculty of Point Park, Walker served as faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and Bethany College.
In the Q&A below, learn more about Walker's research interests, teaching style and what Marvel television series she is most excited to watch.
What drew you to Point Park?
The number one thing that drew me to Point Park was seeing that there are lots of opportunities to connect students to real-world experiences. At the graduate level, it can be difficult to find schools that are making space for that. This summer I was teaching for the Ph.D. in Community Engagement program, and a lot of the course objectives and norms of teaching had that real-world element infused into them. I'm more used to places wanting me to cover theory and methodology very heavily. Working with students on how their practice and work experiences become theory was really positive for me. Also, Point Park has some fantastic alumni, such as Kendra Ross, Ph.D., who now works at Duolingo, and Aliya Durham, Ph.D., who is also wonderful. I thought, "Well, if these are the people coming out of that program, I have a pretty good hunch that I'm going to belong here."
After I got the position, I found out one of the students I worked with during her undergraduate degree at Penn State Greater Allegheny is now a student in the community engagement program at Point Park. I was there when this young woman got the keys to her first dorm room. Literally, I was standing next to her, telling her and her mom that she would be fine. Being here at Point Park means that I will get to watch her move into the final stages of her college career. It is an amazing thing.
Describe your research interests and how you bring them into the classroom.
Organizational leadership is a big part of how I've been able to make things work for me financially, and I think we sort of shy away from talking about that. We have these lofty notions of what it means to work at the academics, but the truth is, you have to have a business sense. I run a small business called Walker Learning Group, and most of the work I do is around equity and inclusion. Right now, I'm really living in the restorative practices space where I'm helping schools think about different ways to deal with conflict among students and how to keep them involved in the learning environment while keeping everyone safe. I love entrepreneurship. I love thinking about the creative arts in terms of entrepreneurship and helping students think about what that looks like for them. I do a lot of research in that area, especially how that works for Black women.
The community engagement program has a lot of room for me to work with students who have an idea for something they want to grow. For example, they might immediately think of their idea as a nonprofit, and I get to say, "Well, let's really interrogate that." I have a lot of background and research experience in social entrepreneurship to encourage students to think about how what they want to do might fit into some other pursuit. Another topic I'm really interested in is how intersectionality affects women in leadership roles. I want to understand the things that happen to women in the workforce in terms of intersectionality and how we can address them.
Let's say a new student is exploring Pittsburgh for the first time, and you're their tour guide. Where would you take them?
I've lived here now 23 years. There are a few places that I think are really great portals to discovering parts of the city beyond the usual destinations. My absolute favorite place to start thinking about what else is here is the White Whale Bookstore. With their new expansion and cafe, I find that I can go there, hear conversations and just kind of settle in, and I find out things where I'm like, "I had no idea that was going on!" They have events that introduce me to other parts of the city and all kinds of people here who come from so many different backgrounds. They do a really good, intentional job of representing Pittsburgh in a way that you're not going to find on the mainstream tourist website. Another place I recommend is the August Wilson African American Cultural Center.
This is so cheesy, but there's an experience – not really a place – that I would recommend. When you drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnels, there's something about that experience that says to you, "This place is special." Of course there are challenges here, but there is also an opportunity to come out of those challenges and do something beautiful and amazing. As badly as I want to say, "Oh, we're going to go to the museums, walk around Oakland, go out to eat," I think that experience of coming through the tunnels gives you a perspective of what is possible here.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I love roller skating. It was a staple in my childhood. Where I grew up, that was one of the main weekend activities. I think nowadays people plan to go roller skating, like, "Hey, when is the rink open?" We didn't do that. It was always just, "I'll see you at Skate 22." That was our place. I've gotten away from skating as a hobby, and I think over the last few years, like many people, I've been trying to think of things that reconnect us. I'd love to do more skating.
I love comic books, Marvel and DC. I'm excited for a lot of the shows and films coming out now. I think a lot of the films are still based on well-known characters, but there are some shows happening now that I would have never dreamed of seeing on the screen. One that I'm most excited for is Ironheart, the story of an African American girl who builds an Iron Man suit, and Tony Stark supports her. She will make an appearance in "Wakanda Forever," and she'll have her own television show next year. I spend a lot of time reading that series. I'm also a diehard Batman fan.
I do have a family. I have children I care for, so I'm really interested in how child development happens. I'm particularly interested in how we as a society can do better in protecting children who don't have the kinds of identities that we have made dominant and assumed for them. This includes how we can better protect trans children or children who are part of neurodiverse groups.
What do you want students to know about you?
I want students to know that if you take my class or come to an event I'm putting on, my number one goal is to make you laugh. I absolutely believe in the power of joy. I am a big fan of Brittney Cooper, who wrote, "Eloquent Rage." After all the raging, at the end of it, she says that the thing that moves us forward in any endeavor – whether it's fighting oppression, getting into politics, working at a place where you're the only person like you at the table – what we have to do is find joy. If you're with me, we're going to find joy.