Higher Education Administrator with Passion for Equity Got Her Start at Kean
The career of RaJade Berry-James, Ph.D., as a scholar fighting for democracy, blossomed at Kean University, where she worked as an administrator and earned a master’s degree in public administration.
After receiving her MPA in 1993, Berry-James built a career in higher education, staying true to her passion for shaping policies, programs and practices that advance equity. She is currently a professor and senior associate dean of faculty and academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Virginia.
“I absolutely must be engaged in academic research that promotes fairness and justice by embracing diversity, advancing equity, driving inclusion and broadening access,” she said.
In her more than 12-year career at Kean, from 1987 to 1999, Berry-James served as associate director of the Office of Institutional Research, a presidential special assistant, and assistant to Edward Weil, then dean of the School of Liberal Arts.
In 2022, she was invited back to the University as the keynote speaker at Kean’s Honors Convocation.
“Everything I am and always wanted to be, I learned at Kean,” she told the honors graduates.
At VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Berry-James supports student programs that promote academic excellence and career readiness and faculty initiatives that provide exceptional opportunities for teaching, scholarship and service.
An accomplished researcher, her recent projects have led to book chapters on social equity, articles examining long-term homelessness, and a paper on COVID-19-related social disparities. She also helped found the Journal of Social Equity and Public Administration.
Susan T. Gooden, Ph.D., dean and professor of the Wilder School, said that Berry-James has made a big difference there in a short time.
“Jade’s strengths include her immense knowledge and experience in accreditation, her national leadership in equity and program evaluation, and her genuine concern for supporting our faculty and students,” Gooden said. “She always takes the time to mentor students, sharing both opportunities and wisdom.”
David S. Birdsell, Ph.D., Kean’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, has worked alongside Berry-James at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). He praised Berry-James for her success as chair of NAPA’s Standing Panel on Social Equity in Governance, where she has built connections to other organizations devoted to inclusion and equity.
“She makes extensive use of social media to elevate the causes she cares about, giving her immediate access to a roster of connections and followers of well over 100,000 individuals and, through their networks, to millions more,” Birdsell said. “The Wilder School is lucky to have her, and we can be very proud of this outstanding Kean alumna.”
Berry-James earned her bachelor of science degree in business administration from Rider University in 1987 while learning to be a “change agent” as a research assistant for the New Jersey Department of Higher Education’s Educational Opportunity Fund. She earned a certified public manager designation from Rutgers University in 1991, her MPA from Kean in 1993, and her Ph.D. in public administration from Rutgers in 1999.
“Kean’s president at the time, Nathan Weiss, encouraged me to continue to learn and lead,” Berry-James said.
Since then, the award-winning professional has served as an administrator, professor and consultant in higher education, including at Georgia College & State University and North Carolina State University. She’s especially proud of her work at the University of Akron’s Institute for Health and Social Policy, in Ohio, between 2000 and 2007.
“I used federally funded projects to support graduate students studying public administration,” she said. “It was incredibly rewarding to mentor students, minimize their financial burden, and train them to address grand challenges in our world.”
Along the way, Berry-James married ophthalmologist Milton James. Their daughters, Myla and Maris, are pursuing STEM-related careers, an option Berry-James emphasized throughout their childhoods with the goal of filling a societal gap.
“It’s been my honor to raise children to support our government through public service, volunteer to make society better, and commit to helping not just our family but as many people as we can,” she said.
In all facets of her life, Berry-James said she’s guided by an Ethiopian proverb: “She who learns, teaches.”
“It reminds me of my mission,” she said, “whether I’m in the classroom or the community.”