Dr. Renée Fleming Mills: Giving back
Dr. Renée Fleming Mills’ passion for learning was instilled early in life by her grandmother and parents. Mills earned her Ph.D. in Urban Services Leadership from the VCU School of Education in 1993. Since then, she has served in a variety of leadership roles in human resources in both the public and private sector. Today, she is human resources director for Virginia’s judicial system, leading a team that provides centralized human resources’ management services for 3,000 employees in the judicial system throughout the state.
What drew you to the field of education?
After earning my master's degree in rehabilitation counseling at the University of Florida, I moved back to Richmond and took some graduate level courses at VCU for my own personal growth. That’s when I met Dr. Jack Duncan, who at the time was a professor of guidance and counseling at the School of Education. Through various career moves that took me across the U.S., I stayed in touch with Dr. Duncan. When I moved back to Richmond to start a new job, he encouraged me to apply to SOE’s Ph.D. in Urban Services Leadership program.
What were your impressions about the Ph.D. in Urban Services Leadership program?
I wasn't working in the field of education, but what I liked about the program was that it was interdisciplinary. It could be applied to many different industries. I was working in human resources at the time and training employees on a variety of topics, so I was interested in getting the foundational principles of human resources and adult education. Since the program bridged the gap between those two disciplines, it fit my situation quite well.
You have a recurring gift to the VCU School of Education’s annual fund. What led you to want to give back to the school?
Dean Daire hosts a series of small discussions with alumni each year, and I attended one a few years ago. I was already involved as an alumna of William and Mary, but after listening to Dean Daire, I decided that I could make more of an impact right here in Richmond. I didn’t want to just be a graduate of the School of Education; I wanted to give back to the school. I’m now looking at ways to get more involved in volunteer activities in addition to giving back financially.
“I didn’t want to just be a graduate of the School of Education; I wanted to give back to the school.”
Did your interest in learning start early in life?
My grandmother and my parents set examples for me very early in life.
My grandmother attended three universities, one of which was VCU. She began her professional career as a teacher in Richmond Public Schools. For many years, she was involved in early childhood education, first as a teacher in the Elba School Nursery and Child Care Center and subsequently as assistant head teacher at the Community Day Nursery. She was the first director of the First African Baptist Church Day Nursery and Child Care Center, serving in that capacity for 12 years. She was active in the Richmond community as well as an active member of several local, state and national professional organizations.
My parents met when they both were attending Virginia State University, and both of them eventually earned their master’s degrees. My mother got hers from Richmond Professional Institute [before it merged with the Medical College of Virginia in 1968 to become VCU].
One of the reasons I applied to William and Mary for my undergraduate degree was because my high school counselor told me that I would not get in. I grew up during the days of “separate but equal” segregation in Richmond. My class at John Marshall High School was predominantly white, and some very negative things occurred during that time. I was in advanced and honors classes. Only a couple of Black students were in those classes, so I didn’t have as much of a support group as some of my other friends.
How has your degree benefitted your career?
When you look at my resume, you’ll see that I have had a lot of jobs in my career – most recently in human resources – and in most of them, I’ve trained adults. For example, in my current job I’ve traveled all over the state conducting training sessions on various human resources topics and conducting investigations related to Equal Employment Opportunity laws. As a trainer, it’s important to know which approach will work best for adults, as well as how to best apply that approach. The foundational knowledge that I got in my doctoral program at the School of Education helped me with both of those things – determining the best approach, and applying it in the best way.