Symphony Oxendine

March 8, 2021

As coordinator of a UNCW program that educates university administrators and other higher education leaders, Symphony Oxendine emphasizes that students are “a solution to be embraced, not a problem to be fixed.”
Her philosophy developed over the years, as she grew from a young woman from Tulsa who initially bypassed college to start her own nail care business into a confident scholar who leads the Ed.D. in Leadership in Higher Education program in the Watson College of Education. Along the way, she gained plenty of experience in student affairs and embraced her position as a Cherokee/Choctaw woman to promote more inclusive policies governing student organizations.
When she decided to attend Oklahoma State University, “I struggled to find a sense of belonging on campus and was trying to create a place in a very large campus where I could belong,” Oxendine said. She found that place in her work chartering a chapter of Alpha Pi Omega, the first Native American sorority. Realizing that rules for the Greek system did not consider the unique concerns of multicultural students, she helped create the Multicultural Greek Council.
“The process of overcoming barriers for Native students and other underrepresented student populations, along with the significant impact of the staff who supported us, led me to seek a career in higher education so I could give back to other Native and underrepresented students,” she said.
Oxendine eventually followed in the footsteps of her mother, who had been a student affairs professional. She earned her M.Ed. in higher education administration and Ph.D. in educational studies at UNC-Greensboro and worked several years in student affairs. She came to UNCW in 2017 after serving as a visiting lecturer at UNCG.
“I was a good student affairs administrator, but I am a much better faculty member,” Oxendine said, noting that she continually challenges her students “to think about how everything they do makes a difference.”
Oxendine and her husband, Derek, who is Lumbee, live in Lumberton with their two daughters. Derek Oxendine is the interim dean of the University College and associate vice chancellor for student success at UNC Pembroke.
Outside of work, she remains active in her sorority, Alpha Pi Omega, as a member of its executive board and is a two-term past grand president. She is currently the organization’s grand treasurer.
“My husband and I sing with a drum group called Southern Sun that is based out of Robeson County,” she added. “I like to be creative in a variety of ways when I am outside the classroom, including sewing, beading and crafting. I am also a big Disney fan, and my bucket list includes visiting each of the Disney theme parks across the globe.”

-- Tricia Vance