by Curlan Campbell
- Obtained 2 master’s degrees
- First Black woman to defend her PhD at Northwest University
- Dissertation research focused on unprecedented study of Caribbean youth who live in under-resourced communities
Dr Salisha Allard-Blaisdell went from becoming an orphan at 15 in Grenada to getting her PhD in Organisational Leadership from the Northwest University over nearly 2 decades, breaking a cycle of poverty that still grips her siblings back home.
Having had first-hand experience of what it’s like being an orphan, Dr Allard-Blaisdell’s formative years growing up in Grand Mal, St George, saw what seemed to be impossible odds being stacked against them growing up “dirt poor.” Allard-Blaisdell and her siblings lived with their mother, Leonora Catherine Allard (La Poterie, St Andrew), and father, Arthur Anthony Thomas aka Sonny. The parents separated when she was 8 years old, after which they first moved to Carriacou, then later back to Grenada. Allard-Blaisdell’s struggle quickly worsened following the death of her mother. “It is still so very sad that it is still one of the scars that still haunts me to not be able to be at my mother’s funeral. I was 9 years old at the time, and we were super poor. So because we didn’t have any money, my older sister, older brother and my sister’s boyfriend were the only 3 people that got to travel to Carriacou to attend my mother’s funeral, while my brother and I were placed in the Sapodilla Home.”
Her experience has led her to yearn to accomplish her life’s mission to improve psychosocial support conditions in orphanages throughout Grenada. Allard-Blaisdell was grateful to her godmother and godbrother, Edith and Wade Phillip during her time of need. Their home was a place of refuge.
Wade Phillip advocated for her to be skipped from grade 4 to grade 6 so that she could sit the Common Entrance exams since she was 12 years old in the 4th grade, having repeated classes because of her inability to read and write. The intervention of Joan Hercules, described as a “spiritual woman,” and who became a mother figure in her life, assisted Allard-Blaisdell and provided counselling support and guidance throughout puberty.
Her early years attending Beaulieau Roman Catholic Primary School, then Boca Secondary School, saw Allard-Blaisdell nurtured by her father, who lived in Grand Mal, St George. Reminiscing about days of attending school with worn-out shoes and unkempt hair, Allard-Blaisdell knew that her father, who she lived with from age 10 to 15, had tried his utmost best at parenting. Despite his best efforts, his age was one of several constraints to taking care of an adolescent girl, but she does not doubt the immense role he played in her life. He died at 74. “He was an excellent father to me. When he died, he only had 24 cents in his bank account because he spent all of his pension to buy my school books. That just showed how invested he was in my education and wellbeing,” Allard-Blaisdell said.
Allard-Blaisdell found herself orphaned at 15. She lived with Hercules and later her sister Rachael Allard. Her life moved from being constantly bullied and ridiculed at school to being adopted at 18 by Americans Ken and Sharalee Blaisdell. From that moment, she felt able to pursue her dreams with their loving support. “I got adopted by this American family who sponsored me to go to college at age 18 and adopted me at age 21 as I was about to graduate with my Bachelor of Arts (BA., English) from Brigham Young University-Hawaii. I have this natural tendency to work hard and do my best because growing up poor in Grenada has taught me how to be resilient. It also taught me that I can be an inspiration to others in a similar situation.”
While studying to attain her Bachelor of Arts degree, Allard-Blaisdell quickly realised the residual psychological effects of her upbringing and sought counselling. From there, she knew what her life’s mission was and was determined to make a difference in the lives of others under similar circumstances.
A few years later, the girl who once was referred to as the “little girl who grew up with the old man in a blue wooden house in Grand Mal” steadily climbed the academic ladder. She obtained 2 master’s degrees: one in Public Administration (MPA), from Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) in 2016 and a second Master of Arts in Applied Leadership Theory (MAALT), from Northwest University Center for Leadership Studies in 2021. She eventually successfully defended her PhD at Northwest University, becoming the first Black woman and the second woman to do so at the institution.
Her dissertation research focused on the unprecedented study of Caribbean youth who live in under-resourced communities. It explored the influence of extracurricular activities, leadership traits and their effects on the resilience of 150 Grenadian youth ages 13 to 16 across four secondary schools. Students completed the Grenadian Youth Engagement and Leadership Trait questionnaire, Student Resilience Survey, and the Grenadian Youth and Resilience Study Demographic questionnaire, collecting sociodemographic data. The research findings, analysed using a cumulative odds logistic regression, were impressive. For example, for the students who indicated high observed leadership traits, the odds of scoring higher for resilience are more than 15 times greater than those who indicated low observed leadership traits. In addition, at the 90% CI, for students who indicated high levels of extracurricular activities (EA) engagement, the odds of scoring higher for resilience are more than 3.5 times greater than for students who indicated low EA engagement.
Dr Allard-Blaisdell stated that these results support the hypothesis that an influential leader in extracurricular activities functions as a protective mechanism for positive youth development, concluding the significance of particular leadership traits and their impact on student’s resilience and the integration of extracurricular activities within schools and communities.
The ecstatic 32-year-old PhD graduate said she feels even more empowered to be a role model to other women, especially women of African descent so that they too can overcome any obstacles such as microaggression and racial bias to reach their goals. It is also her hope to be able to afford to assist her family back home with an opportunity to better their situation and have a decent quality of life. In addition, being a mother herself to a beautiful 9-year-old named Kaelyn, Allard-Blaisdell is proud to provide the best quality of life for her daughter, who she described as her “pride and joy”.
Now that she has completed her PhD, Dr Allard-Blaisdell, who resides in Kirkland, Washington, is preparing to travel to the UK in June to present research on black women and resilience. The University of Portsmouth will host the conference from 15-17 June 2022.
“Last year, when I began my qualifying exams for the PhD in Organisational Leadership at Northwest University, I dedicated my research efforts to advancing women in leadership. As a doctoral student within Northwest University’s Center for Leadership Studies, I was tasked with selecting a contemporaneous leadership issue adjacent to my dissertation research. I am a leadership scholar-practitioner interested in blending theory and application to support individuals living on society’s margins. As a result, I decided to look at how the social construction of leadership can be drawn upon to create resilient organisational systems and simultaneously amplify the voices of marginalised women. I discovered that Black women encountered unique ‘coloured’ barriers during my research. These barriers included appearance and racial stereotypes, which led to learned maladaptive behaviours and racially biased policies that fueled harmful organisational climate and culture,” Dr Allard-Blaisdell explained.
“Furthermore, I discovered that these barriers were especially deleterious to Black women constructing their leadership legacy. These discoveries crystallised my commitment to supporting women, especially Black women, in their professional and academic pursuits. Despite my dedication and commitment, I did not anticipate that my research would be recognised the following year. I did not expect to be invited to present at the International Leadership Association (ILA) 6th Annual Women and Leadership Conference. I was delighted and pleasantly surprised to receive the following award notice from the President of the ILA Women and Leadership Member Community and the Conference Chair, Dr Liza Howe-Walsh.”
She hopes to secure tenure at a university as a professor and further her research and network to build more contacts. As for her intention to give back to Grenada, Dr Allard-Blaisdell has set her eyes on becoming Grenada’s Minister of Youth Development. Still, until then, she is currently preparing to establish a nonprofit foundation to make international donations toward charitable causes. She will continue working with her father, Ken, a certified public accountant and tax consultant with experience in the nonprofit arena. She also dreams of establishing an orphanage on the island and working alongside other orphanages to provide leadership and organisational support services to improve their psychosocial assistance. At present, Dr Allard-Blaisdell is a volunteer development director for the GK Folks Foundation, a nonprofit organisation providing mental health, education and entrepreneurship resources to African immigrants and refugees in the diaspora while enlightening people about Africa’s rich diverse cultures.