Twenty-two years ago, Lisa Willis walked through the doors of Malcolm X College—and she never left.

She now serves as the Dean of Student Services at the college, but when Lisa was a Malcolm X student, she never imagined herself where she is today.

Lisa’s City Colleges journey began at the South Chicago Learning Center, Olive-Harvey College’s satellite campus near her South Side home. At the time, she thought she wanted to get a certificate in data processing. However, an unlikely encounter with a cadaver during a biology class inspired Lisa to change her program. In 2000, she transferred to Malcolm X College to study mortuary science.

Once she arrived, Lisa didn’t waste any time getting involved in the Malcolm X community. She sought out mentors and developed a strong relationship with the mortuary science program director, Alta Williams, and other staff members—something she encourages all students to do.

“You can’t do life by yourself,” she said. “I had people that believed in me. I was able to go to them for guidance, and they were able to help me grow into the person I am today.”

Lisa also got to know her peers on campus when she served as the President of the Mortuary Science Club and as a member of the academic honor society Phi Theta Kappa – Alpha Lambda Iota Chapter.

In 2002, Lisa finished the mortuary science program and became a licensed funeral director and embalmer—but she wasn’t ready to leave the college that had given her so much. She immediately began serving as the Mortuary Science Program Coordinator at Malcolm X. Then, she coordinated the partnership between Malcom X’s Nursing Program and John H. Stroger Hospital. Eventually, she became the Associate Dean of Instruction, the Associate Dean of Student Development, Interim Dean of Continuing Education, and now, the Dean of Student Services.

“I’ve learned how to be a professional and how to lead within the four walls of Malcolm X,” Lisa shared.

Lisa takes on many responsibilities in her current role. She and her team oversee all aspects of student life, from admissions and athletics to financial aid and veteran services. She feels her time as a student and staff member has given her a unique perspective, allowing her to relate to students and some of the challenges they may face. In fact, Lisa was a single mom with three children when going through the Mortuary Science program. Her daughter attended the childcare center at Malcolm X while she attended classes.

Lisa’s love for Malcolm X College, as well as her commitment to its students and staff, is why she continues to drive 45 minutes to campus every day. When she was a student, she had instructors and leaders at Malcolm X in her corner who helped her thrive. Now, she wants students to know that she’s there for them, too.

“There’s nothing I would not do for one of my students to help them be successful.”

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