Terrell Strayhorn

All things work together to make you the person you are (and will become). You matter. You belong here. You’re here on purpose. And, no matter what, do not worry!


Dr. Terrell Strayhorn is a proud native of Virginia Beach, Virginia and honors graduate of Kempsville High School. He attended the University of Virginia (UVA), earning a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in music and religious studies. Given his strong passion for teaching and education reform, he enrolled in the Curry School of Education at UVA, earning a master’s degree in Education Policy, with an emphasis in higher education. He landed a full-time job as a Research Associate at the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) in Washington, DC, primarily supporting the Annual Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees. He also taught as an adjunct instructor of World Religions at Marymount University, and later Music Teacher at John Eager Howard Elementary School and Research Associate at The Helix Group, a public health firm.

Looking to get back to his first love of education and strengthening his research skills, Strayhorn accepted an offer to attend Virginia Tech’s School of Education (SOE) for a PhD in Higher Education and Student Affairs. He accomplished much in his time there, including being a summer research fellow at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey; a research affiliate of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Division of Research; and ASHE early career fellowship recipient. Even as a doctoral student, Strayhorn was deeply engaged in campus life, actively involved in the VT Graduate School, and served as president of the SOE Student Association. He was awarded membership in Kappa Delta Pi National Honor Society, Chi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, and was named “Virginia Tech Graduate Student of the Year,” upon graduation.

Today, Dr. Strayhorn is Professor of Urban Education at LeMoyne-Owen College, where he formerly served as Vice President for Academic & Student Affairs. Previously, he served on the faculty and leadership of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and The Ohio State University. He owns an educational consulting firm, Do Good Work Consulting, and hosts a new gospel TV broadcast coming this Spring 2020. (Nashville, TN)

Where did the idea for your career come from?

Following my TEDx talk in 2011 and the success of my sense of belonging book in 2012, my already active speaking schedule picked up momentum with me receiving 2-3 invitations each day to speak at campuses and conferences across the nation—that’s 10-15 invites each week! To separate my speaking/consulting work from my college professor duties, I launched my consulting agency and thought deeply about its name. One of my life mottos and favorite phrases that I received from my doctoral advisor and life-coach is “Do good work…whatever you do, do good work,” he always said. That’s where the name came from and I think it reflects the essence of our work with/for our clients: “We do good work (for our clients) so they can continue to do good work (for ALL students).”

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Given the nature of my work as an entrepreneur, business owner, scholar, and professor, there really isn’t a typical day per se. Every day is different… Typically, I wake up early (6-7am) as my internal clock gets me up without an alarm clock exactly 6 hours after I lay down. Once I’m up, I usually grab my eyeglasses (can’t see without them), make a cup of coffee, and read the Washington Post, New York Times, and Chronicle of Higher Education. Usually, I try to write a “Letter to the Editor” in response to something I’ve read at least once a week.

Before jumping into email, I enjoy a 30-minute “free writing” session where I write a daily devotion, add a few paragraphs to a chapter or article I’m working on, or outline fresh thoughts for an upcoming keynote lecture. Every now and again, I’ll forgo my morning writing time to create new slides (in Keynote or Powerpoint) for an upcoming presentation or design social media content that’s fresh on my mind. After that, I study my calendar (again) and “to do” list to see what my main priorities are for the day and I jump right in.

When possible, I will send any emails or place any calls early to get them out of the way. As the leader, I try to make sure that I am responsive to the needs, questions, or requests of my team by prioritizing their notes first. I’ll do this by meeting with remote team members, when needed, via email, video or phone conference. Somewhere just before lunch, I try to devote some time (30-60 minutes) to social media for WORK purposes–touching base with my communications assistant, brainstorming new content, liking/retweeting information, or sharing news about exciting projects or upcoming talks.

Then, it’s back to work after lunch–anything from communicating with clients, prep calls, reviewing contracts, generating payroll, or reviewing my calendar with my assistant to make sure that upcoming meetings or campus visits don’t conflict with personal obligations or family events. I’ll touch base with my collaborators, usually scheduling teleconferences for morning (about 10am) or afternoon (1pm). Like most CEOs, I spend many days traveling for meetings, conferences, and other business-related commitments each year, averaging 3-4 trips per month. Some days, I have to meet with a student about their dissertation or a class project. I may have to submit grades or connect with a faculty colleague about a grant collaboration. Workdays average 12-18+ hours, with variation.

After devoting much of my day to work and business development, I try to spend time with family and friends on evenings and weekends. Favorite pastimes include Houseparty (the app), eating out, piano, watching Criminal Minds, and South Park (yes, mindless comedy is a great way to unwind).

How do you bring ideas to life?

I take several steps to bring ideas to life. When I get a new idea, I conduct my own “feasibility study,” so to speak, where I might search online to determine if the idea is new, unique, worthwhile, and feasible. I also use a blend of online and off-line sources (e.g., books, articles, advice) to identify any potential barriers or stressors that might get in the way of bringing the idea to life. Armed with this information about feasibility and barriers, I then develop a plan for bringing it to life—what do I need, who do I need, when do I need it/them, and how much will it cost me in terms of time and resources? With a plan in hand, I then usually try to “map it out” with calendar in hand. I bring my ideas to life through this methodical approach, joined by a strong sense of creativity, energy, and optimism.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a sourcing model in which people (organizations, agencies) obtain ideas, information, goods, services, and facts from a large, generally open and ever-evolving network, especially online or via social media. It’s a way of obtaining information or immediate input from tons of people on anything. For instance, I got a yorkie pup a few years ago and wanted input about her name. I snapped a pic of her, posted it on Facebook and Twitter, with a simple caption: “Name this pup.” Within minutes, I had hundreds of comments with possible names like “Princess,” “Cocoa,” and the winning “Bella.” Not only did people in my network (or outside) share names, but they were able to affirm their support for a particular name by “liking” each comment. As a scholar and entrepreneur, I use my hashtag (#DoGoodWork) as a way of crowdsourcing information online that relates to student success, proven educational practices, and campus highlights. I’m really excited about this trend, where it’s headed, and what we can do to leverage it in the company.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I wake up early, usually by 7am, and I only require 6 hours of sleep per night. My internal clock wakes me up (without alarm) exactly 6 hours after I lay down. Down at midnight? Up at 6am! Down at 10pm? (Hardly ever) Up at 4am! This habit allow me to be terribly productive because I can schedule and structure my day in keeping with this pattern. I get up early, read, check email, and get things done before most people get up. I can work long hours with laser-focus, whenever needed. That too contributes to my productivity level.

What advice would you give your younger self?

DO. NOT. WORRY. Things happen. Some good, some bad. But all things work together to make you the person you are (and will become). You matter. You belong here. You’re here on purpose. And, no matter what, do not worry!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

While many people believe that automation is an inherently bad thing for the workforce, I believe it to be positive. Instead of wasting time in bottlenecked processes, automation allows for workers to take a more in-depth approach to whatever they are doing, and it creates more jobs as more needs to be done to adjust for the increase in volume.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Read, read, read, and read again. I think this applies to so many different aspects of my work as an entrepreneur, business owner, supervisor, and academic scholar. As a researcher and author, I read for inspiration (i.e., staying abreast of new trends, technology) and I read for information (i.e., literature reviews, evaluations) and I read for publication (i.e., editing a manuscript before/after submission). My industry is (higher) education so I try to stay up-to-speed on what’s going on in the field and what’s impacting my clients (i.e., schools, colleges). So, I read daily headlines/stories in New York Times, Washington Post, The Tennessean (my state), and Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s not just newspapers, I frequently read blogs for CEOs, business columns, and Harvard Business Review reports. Reading is fundamental, but I think reading a lot if essential for business owners.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that has helped me grow my business is building our listserv and creating new ways to collect “contact information” from past and potential clients. Working with my communications assistant, I hired a pro to brand the company, redesign our logo, conceptualize our marketing pieces, the whole 9-yards, so to speak. We launched an electronic mailing (or newsletter) that allows us to connect with clients and subscribers periodically, highlighting recent activities, achievements, and services. We also embedded a “banner” on our website that asks for one’s email in exchange for being entered into a raffle for a copy of my most recent book. That’s really helped us grow!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early on, I struggled with perfectionist tendencies that often got in the way of really experiencing “success” on the job. We’d work hard to meet a deadline and submit the grant on-time but, rather than celebrate that achievement, I would agonize over the one typo that I discovered later on page 10 of a 30-page document. Or, I’d work hard to finish up a book chapter, release a national report, and wrap-up work with a campus client, only to move on to my next “to do” item rather than celebrating personal (or team) accomplishments. This left me feeling overwhelmed sometimes and my team longed for “paused praise” every now and again. I overcame it by being more intentional to recognize good work, praise performance, and finding ways to celebrate achievements. For me, it might be treating myself to a dessert or cupcake (my favorite!) and for staff it might be a group lunch, day out, or even day off!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There are a couple, but I’ll share one business idea that I’m willing to give away to readers. Household Organizing agency. The concept is simple—professionals would develop plans and create systems to help adults organize their home, office, or storage. I think the company could do the organizing work or advise the homeowner (renter, entrepreneur) about what they can do to be better organized. The business would build organization plans, identify products or tools that can be purchased to improve organization, and in exchange for more money the company would actually build the organization system outlined in the plan. (I also think we need more “Moving Assistance/Concierge” companies, where people can hire a team to come in, pack them up, discard/remove any waste or thrash, and clean up the place [if needed] once the moving truck is packed—it’s a one-stop shop experience!)

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Good question and I had to think long and hard about it. I guess that I would say a “6-in-1 Foot Spa” that I ordered through Amazon. I haven’t shopped in a mall for over a year now (yikes) and order from Amazon weekly. The foot spa is incredible—it has massage motors, heating vents, bubble jets, and so much more. It’s like giving your feet a posh bubble bath on a tropical island, all while sitting in your favorite chair in the middle of the living room! (smile)

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

OMG, the list could be so long as I use a lot of software and different services in my work. Plus, I’m always looking for technology (especially FREE or low-cost) that will help us be more efficient, more responsive (to clients), and more collaborative as a team. I use Calendy to help me schedule calls, meetings, and events—that helps cut down the back-and-forth of scheduling and makes it easy. Another is Loomly that lets me and my team schedule social media according to a calendar weeks and months out at a time.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I wish that I could say “my book” or one of those that I’ve written (laughing). But, one book that I recommend to people often is Carol Dweck’s Mindset. I recommend it for several reasons. First, it’s a good book with a clear thesis and it’s an “easy read.” Second, it’s chock-full of contemporary examples, modern-day issues, and that makes it all relevant. But, third, I encountered this book at a time when I was operating with a “fixed mindset”—so too was my company—and it helped me turn things around. I wish the same for everyone who takes my advice and reads the book.

What is your favorite quote?

“Love many, trust few; learn to paddle your own canoe.” -Ms. Warner, my maternal grandmother

Key Learnings:

• Your undergraduate major does NOT determine your career path or professional destiny.
• You’re never too young to earn your PhD.
• Even if people say you’ll be overeducated and underexperienced, do NOT give up on your goals and dreams. “Just keep on living,” as my grandmother would say and you’ll get more experience (and older lol) with every passing minute.
• Don’t worry, be happy.
• Find ways to continue growing, learning, and improving every day. When in doubt, read, read, and read again.