Pictured above, McNair Scholars from the University of Maryland, College Park attend a matinee at the Kennedy Center in 2012 with Terri D. Wright. Photo credit: Terri D. Wright.
Community and connection paved her path
A few times a year, Terri Wright receives cards or emails with updates from students who’ve landed a job, scored a fellowship or been admitted into graduate school. These updates from students she has served are reminders of the importance of faculty and administrators in supporting student success and persistence.
A first-generation college student, Wright remembers every teacher, program and faculty mentor who helped pave the path to her position at University of Colorado Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science. On July 20, she starts her role as the assistant dean for access, inclusion and student programs.
From high school summer intensives at University of South Carolina through TRiO Upward Bound, to her high school chemistry teacher, to her faculty advisor and research mentors at Hampton University and University of South Carolina, she can recount the importance and impact of each of these experiences and mentors. Much like her personal journey, her professional journey has been dedicated to investing in partnerships and mentorship opportunities to create supportive, inclusive environments that fuel student success.
A problem solver at heart
Wright’s family understood the value of education.
“They told me ‘you have no choice, you’re going to college,’” she said.
Not certain what to study, engineering was her first choice. It offered a way to combine science and hands-on learning to solve problems.
Wright has always been a hands-on learner and problem solver. As a child, she used her mom’s Mary Kay makeup sales samples to mix and combine vials of solutions and create new products. When the family’s VCR or radio broke, she fixed it.
In high school, she “loved the Bunsen burners and mixing solutions, and I wanted to be just like Coach Kelly, my chemistry teacher. He made learning chemistry fun and interesting.”
When it came to starting college, she was accepted at a number of engineering programs and chose to attend Hampton University in Virginia. On registration day, however, she had second thoughts as she sat at the registration table.
“I looked at all of the math classes and thought, ‘No way. I don’t want to do those,’” she said. “So I changed my major to chemistry before classes even started. I realized later that the math classes were all the same as engineering, and I decided I’d just stay and do them.”
Embracing them was possible, in part, because of the incredible faculty and student community in her chemistry department.
“We would talk about everything from everyday life to future career goals. My advisor, Dr. Floyd Jackson would always inquire about my wellbeing and academic challenges and successes. He was very compassionate and cared about me,” Wright said. “We were a close-knit department. Later, I decided I wanted to give back and make sure students have everything that they need to succeed.”
Dedicated to student success
After completing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in organometallic chemistry, Wright joined Accenture and worked as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies like Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobil.
While she loved the problem-solving and collaboration, something was missing. She missed interacting with and mentoring students as she had done throughout graduate school. After the 9/11 attacks, consulting came to a screeching halt, so she moved into full-time teaching and later into education administration, where she thrived working on co-curricular programming, initiating partnerships, building relationships, and creating professional development activities to help students grow personally and succeed academically.
Wright has been pursuing her passion for working with undergraduate students and implementing programs to ensure academic success ever since. Over the past two decades she has held leadership positions in academic affairs, research and STEM access and academic achievement at a number of universities including Morgan State University, University of Maryland, College Park and Howard University.
Drawing upon her depth of experience and passion for ensuring student success and achievement, Wright is charged with leading CU Engineering teams responsible for recruiting, career and professional development, scholarships and college affordability, collegewide diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, and the BOLD Center.
“I’m thrilled that Dr. Wright is joining CU Engineering,” interim Dean Keith Molenaar said. “We started a national search in 2019 to hire for this unique role, and her breadth of experience is unparalleled. We’re at a point in history where student support and success coupled with an institutional dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion are necessary to maintain our trajectory and to pursue our strategic objectives, and Dr. Wright has the expertise to lead us in these areas.”
“With the higher education landscape shifting rapidly, there’s never been a more important time to focus on and invest in student success,” Wright said. “I’m looking forward to new partnerships and future collaborations with the CU Boulder Engineering community.”
Maria Kuntz is the assistant director, admissions marketing and inclusive community in the College of Engineering & Applied Science.