Dr. Tamika Lett spent a dozen years on the front lines of a human services organization. She is now using the eye-opening experiences she had in the human services degree program courses she teaches for Saint Leo University.
Lett, 36, is an adjunct faculty member in both the undergraduate and graduate human services degree programs. Born in Hampton, VA where she resides today, she is married to Melvin who is a 2018 Saint Leo alumnus of the bachelor's in criminal justice degree program.
Education and Human Services Career
Lett attained a bachelor's degree in psychology from Old Dominion University in 2007and a master's in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati in 2010. Her Ph.D. in human services with a criminal justice specialization, which she completed in 2017, is from Walden University.
She spent 12 years working for the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board in Virginia.
"I was a clinical supervisor working with individuals who struggled with substance use," she explains. "I worked with children first, then women and families, and then men. I had a supervisory position during my last four years there. It was very fulfilling work. Sometimes you have some wins with your clients and other times it's more challenging as you fight harder for them to win."
She further details the various duties she had in her roles.
"I was involved with the co-occurring program and worked with jail-based services and a drug court. My focus was on re-entry. I supervised and helped people get treatment by providing support for those dealing with mental health and substance use issues. This involved everything from helping them find housing and other resources to simply stabilizing them for a better future."
Her Journey to Teach for Saint Leo University
She says she did not get burned out from her previous career but simply viewed the transition into a teaching role as the next progression in her working life.
"I saw a job ad for a human services instructor at Saint Leo University while I was working on my doctorate," she says. "Someone had also told me about the university and recommended it. I reached out to Dr. Amina Abdullah, the chair of the undergraduate human services degree program, and I interviewed with her at the former Newport News location in 2015."
Six years later, she is so grateful to have received this teaching opportunity. She has also taught for Old Dominion, her alma mater, as well as Rasmussen College and the Colorado State University Global Campus.
Teaching in the Human Services Degree Programs
Originally, she taught as an adjunct instructor at Saint Leo University's Newport News, VA Education Center.
"It was a very enlightening experience," she shares. "I really enjoyed it because of the small class sizes and my interactions with the students."
In addition to the courses she taught there, the students participated in an event called Feeding 5,000 around Thanksgiving and assisted at food banks. She also helped facilitate the Human Services Club. All of these activities gave her students plenty of hands-on, real-world experience.
"I liked the different activities we could do involving a lot of practical community service work. I got to know the students on a different level through these events. Giving them the materials they needed and then seeing them put this into action in the community was so rewarding."
Teaching in an Online Learning Environment
She now exclusively teaches online courses in both the undergraduate human services and graduate human services administration degree programs.
"Teaching online is great because of the flexibility we have with our adult learners," she explains. "For me, it provides an opportunity to be creative and engage students in unique ways. I will post different things for the students like motivational quotes, videos, and little memes to encourage them."
She completely understands the balancing act many of her students are trying to do in their busy lives.
"As an online learner for my Ph.D. program, I understand what it's like working and going to school at the same time."
A Passion for Educating
For the bachelor's in human services degree program, she has taught a class on working with clients in groups, courses on policy and advocacy, along with human services one-on-one.
"My favorite is the one-on-one class. I love giving new students a full introduction to what the human services world truly looks like. It's very exciting to share my passion with them regarding how many different avenues there are when it comes to working in this field."
She enjoys informing students about the real nature of working as a human services professional and dispelling any stereotypes students may have in their mind when entering the program.
"A lot of students who come into this bachelor's program have some preconceived notions about what human services is," she says. "I'm glad we can enlighten them."
In the master's in human services administration degree program, she has taught classes covering policy and advocacy, funding for nonprofits, nonprofit administration, and creating new human services organizations.
"I truly enjoy the class on creating new human services organizations since I'm a small business owner helping human services agencies in my community and nationwide. I get to help students with grant writing, the steps to attain proper licensures, and other aspects of running a business. It's so nice to be able to pass on what I do in my business to students for building their own business plans either during or after they complete this graduate degree program."
She adds that most of the students in the master's program are at a much different place in their careers compared to undergrads.
"Many of these students have worked in the field. They are in the process of determining which specific challenges and issues in the community they want to help solve."
And what does she find most rewarding about being a college professor?
"I love seeing students graduate and then accomplish what they've set out to do. It's even better seeing them use the skills they learned in their program. It's wonderful seeing their goals come to fruition."
Lett has had several areas of focus in her studies. Her dissertation and published works have focused on trauma, substance use, and mental health disorders, recidivism, and restorative justice. She has been published in the Journal of Strategic International Studies and Interdisciplinary Insights, a Saint Leo University journal.
Small Business Pursuits
Since 2014, she has proudly owned and operated T.L. Payne Consulting, LLC. The company provides a variety of services, including training on leadership and diversity inclusion, educational courses and training on human services-related topics, along with opportunities to attend wellness retreats.
"In addition to my own consulting work, I have a wide range of independent contractors who work for me to provide these services," she says. "The slogan for the company is 'Enlightenment through Education.'"
Last fall, she launched her own online bookstore called Cork Fiction. She sells new and used books and some unique accessories.
"I have all genres and stay abreast of what's out there. I have everything from thrillers to children's books. New books can get expensive, so I try to find and resell used books. Personally, I'm more of a biography reader."
Lett offers up some insight on her future career goals.
"Saint Leo University has been such a bright spot in my career," she confides. "I hope to continue teaching for the university for a long time. The engagement and quality of faculty here makes all the difference. We have so many faculty members who have worked in the field. This translates into real-world skills students can learn. Students have real-life questions and they want real-world answers."
There is also a specific area she would love to see expanded upon in the overall human services curriculum.
"I'd also love to see us incorporate more substance use strategies into our human services degree programs. I think there's a big need for this and I want to see more practitioners in this area in particular."
Plus, she hones in on the core value of personal development each day.
"I want to continue to develop my skills to be the best instructor I can possibly be for my students," she says.
FOLLOW DR. LETT: Follow Dr. Lett on her Instagram profile.