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Dr. Dandridge finds calling after career in television

Former WRIC anchor makes promise to pay it forward to those in her field
Contributed Photo
Photo of Dr. Gwen Williams Dandridge, Assistant VP of Communications.

Dr. Gwen Williams Dandridge is the Assistant Vice President of Communications at Virginia State University. Her role includes the branding, marketing, social media, videography, crisis, external, and internal communications of the university.

Dr. Dandridge is also a mother, educator, and former news anchor.

Growing up, Dandridge’s mother exemplified what hard work and dedication looks like. Her father passed away when she was only 10 years old and her mother became a widow. Her mother was a blue-collar worker and provided for her 8 children.

“From her, we saw what it meant to work hard and live a life of integrity. I think that we all recognized that just working hard is a part of our DNA and a part of who we are and what we do. I think that’s the case for a lot of women,” Dandridge said.

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Dandridge has always known that she wanted to be on television and expressed that it was a desire God put in her spirit.

“For as long as I can remember being a television news anchor is all I ever wanted to do. I can remember being as young as 8 or 9 years old and saying that I want to be on television,” Dandridge said.

She majored in Communications at North Carolina State University. After graduating, she started her journey and began working in radio.

“Once I finished college, I didn’t find a television job immediately so I started out working in radio news,” Dandridge said.

“It wasn’t until six years after I graduated from college that I was able to finally land my first job in television. I started out as the weather girl.”

After fulfilling her dream of television, Dandridge came to Virginia State University in 2008 as Special Assistant to former President Eddie Moore. Eventually, she transitioned into an academic role teaching in Mass Communications.

“It was there that I truly felt that I had found my calling after my 23 years of television. I was teaching Public Presentation, News Production, and a Public Relations class,” Dandridge said.

After four years in the classroom, Dr. Dandridge said she received a direct message from newly appointed President Dr. Makola M. Abdullah.

Cabinet members said he wanted her to serve on an interim basis as his Director of Communications.

Dr. Abdullah filled the interim position after she served for nine months. After nine months in the interim position, Dr. Dandridge returned to the classroom.

After three years, she received another phone call from the President’s office again asking her to serve on an interim basis.

“I knew then it wasn’t phrased as a question,” Dr. Dandridge said.

Dr. Dandridge was only in the interim position for a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She realized that filling the position would no longer be a priority.

“I had only been in this position for a month before COVID hit and after I was in it for a few months, he said to me you might as well take the position because I’m not going to try to fill it this time,” Dr. Dandridge said.

Dr. Dandridge has the utmost respect for Dr. Abdullah for taking a chance with her.

“He saw something in me that I did not see in myself,” Dr. Dandridge said. “I was afraid to take the position because I didn’t know if I’d be good at it.”

Dr. Dandridge has been AVP of Communications for four years and has been at Virginia State University for nearly 16 years. She believes it’s important for students to see black women in positions of power.

“It lets them know and see what their life can be,” Dr. Dandridge said. “I remember the few women that were on television during that time certainly didn’t look like me with dark skin. They were fairer complexion, the typical look that at that time in the 70s would’ve been considered what beautiful looks like.”

Seeing this at such a young age made her question if her lifelong dream was attainable.

Dr. Dandridge believes that students seeing all of the women at VSU in positions of leadership should be a source of pride and allows them to see what they can be.

“I think that in an environment like an HBCU, it’s even more important and that’s why I love to share my story that I didn’t come from wealth, I didn’t come from fame, I’m a small-town country girl from a small farm town in North Carolina,” Dr. Dandridge said.

“It was hard work pursuing a dream and believing that I could be the things that God had placed in my spirit to be. It was hard work that got me here.”

Hard work is not a rarity to Dr. Dandridge who had two years’ worth of long days and nights while transitioning from working in television to working at Virginia State.

“When I was leaving radio to come into television, I was working both jobs. I was doing radio Monday through Friday and television on Saturday and Sunday,” Dr. Dandridge said.

She did this for a full year before she fully transitioned into TV. When she was leaving TV to work at Virginia State, she worked at Virginia State Monday through Friday and continued to do TV on Saturday and Sunday. For two full years of her career, she worked seven days a week.

Dr. Dandridge directly attributes a part of her success to the woman who hired her for her first job. She wasn’t qualified for a job at the radio station however, the lady who interviewed her still gave her the job to get into the broadcasting industry.

“She said that she was going to take a chance on me because she saw something in me, and that all she asked of me in return is that if I was ever in the position to help someone else get into the industry, I would give them that opportunity,” Dr. Dandridge said.

She considers her work at Virginia State a part of keeping that promise.

“I feel that I have made a difference to this university through both teaching and my current position,” Dr. Dandridge said.

Dr. Dandridge wants young women, who would like to go into her career field, to know this.

“People think it’s all glitz and glam going into television but there’s a whole lot that happens before the cameras come on, and you have to be ready for everything that you’re about to endure just to get to that set,” Dr. Dandridge said. “Go into it with your eyes wide open.”

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