Fort Valley State University alumna becomes first woman to serve as College of Agriculture dean at Tuskegee University

by ChaNae Bradley

Posted on Mar 22, 2022

Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller

Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller

Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller is the first woman to serve as dean of Tuskegee University’s College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences.

Although the 1997 Fort Valley State University animal science alumna holds decades of experience in the agricultural discipline, and has conducted research at top universities, as a young girl her initial aspirations were not in agriculture.

“I never thought about agriculture as a career,” Bolden-Tiller says chuckling, referring to herself as an accidental aggie. “Even though I chose animal science and understood that if I studied animals, [as] most of the advances in human reproduction are explored with animals, I never thought of it as a career.”

The Homerville, Georgia, native was no stranger to FVSU or agriculture, as her mother graduated from Fort Valley State College with a home economics degree and taught in the public school system for 38 years.

“She was the adviser for the high school Future Homemakers of America (FHA) Club, now called the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). She took students to Camp John Hope every summer of my childhood to participate in FHA and Future Farmers of America (FFA) activities,” Bolden-Tiller said. As part of the camp, she recalls visiting FVSU’s campus and talking to faculty and students.

Once Bolden-Tiller matriculated into high school, she realized she had a desire to study reproduction and considered majoring in biology. However, during the summer prior to her senior year of high school, she had her first encounter with animal science as a participant in a research apprenticeship program offered to high school students by FVSU. This program allowed her to meet FVSU research faculty, conduct research and to learn about techniques related to reproductive biology under the mentorship of Dr. Eugene Amoah (retired).

“We did a lot of work associated with goat reproduction, laparoscopy and in-vitro fertilization. That piqued my interests because a lot of the work that we did could address humans and could address infertility in females,” Bolden-Tiller said.

In preparation for her future, the budding animal scientist applied to FVSU and received the James H. Porter Scholarship. In 1993, she began her undergraduate studies. As an undergraduate, she participated in fellowships and internships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Idaho as well as the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, and she also became president of the student chapter of the Minority in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) organization to which she was introduced by Dr. Charles Magee. These experiences allowed her to present research at conferences and meet and network with people from across the country.

“I think because I was open to learning and taking advantage of opportunities that were offered by faculty and staff based on my own interests, I was set up for success,” Bolden-Tiller said. From those experiences, she decided earning a doctorate was the next step.

“I actually went directly into a Ph.D. program right after my bachelor’s. I ended up at the University of Missouri-Columbia and pursued a doctorate in animal sciences,” Bolden-Tiller said. The researcher said during her doctoral studies, she picked a great adviser (Dr. Michael Smith) who supported her desire to be in academia at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), particularly an 1890 Land-Grant University. “My adviser respected the art of teaching and was known for being a great teacher,” she said.

In 2002, Bolden-Tiller completed her doctorate. To prepare for a career in academia, she pursued a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institute of Health (NIH), which allowed her to conduct research at the UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. In addition to her research, she also served as an adjunct professor for human anatomy and physiology at Houston Community College. With teaching experience under her belt, Bolden-Tiller was now prepared to pursue academia. After her two-year fellowship ended, she received a call about a junior faculty positon at Tuskegee University. She gladly accepted the role in 2006.

“I felt like I could come here (Tuskegee) and do well,” she said smiling. “In six months, I was assigned to be the program coordinator for the animal science program.” The college dean says she came with a lot of energy and ideas. As the years progressed, she was promoted to assistant department head and rose to the ranks of assistant dean until her appointment to dean in January 2022.

“I never aspired to be a dean, but I recognized that there may one day be a need for me to be one because I think it’s important that our leadership represents our student population,” Bolden-Tiller said.  Bolden-Tiller also serves as the current President of the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences.

Although the college dean has received many accolades, she said her 15-year-old son is her greatest accomplishment. Bolden-Tiller, who is married to her high school sweetheart, resides in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she is actively involved in the community.

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