INTRODUCTIONS: Meet LeAndrea Mikell

Leading by example and learning from others

Raised across the river in Hardeeville, South Carolina, LeAndrea Mikell always felt a familiar pull toward the city of Savannah. Now, as the executive director for government and community engagement at Savannah State University (SSU), Mikell is happy to be so close to family, nature, and a town she loves.

“I grew up only about 20 minutes away from Savannah… right across the bridge,” Mikell said. “I was in Fayetteville, North Carolina, studying theater and wanted to transfer closer to home. Savannah State had a good program I was interested in I was happy to be near family.”

Mikell began putting down her professional roots in Savannah in 2013.

“While I was in my last year at SSU, I interned at the Chamber of Commerce. I worked for the Small Business Assistance Corporation. I then worked for the Savannah Morning News, went to World Trade Center Savannah, and then came back to Savannah State. This town is part of me now,” she said with a laugh.

She has been fortunate to work with many aspects of the Savannah community. 

“I work with the students, residents, elected officials. With my job, I have to make sure our elected officials and community partners companies have the information and resources they need so we can collaborate and work together on projects. I work with students so I can understand things they’re focusing on now so that as we strengthen our workforce and our region, it is a circle. We hope [students] will bring those skills back to our workforce and region. We understand at SSU what we need to do to prepare students for success.”

Savannah State University, established in 1890, is the oldest higher education institution in Savannah and is the first public historically black college or university (HBCU) in the state of Georgia.

“There are all these amazing connections throughout our campus as well as all of the history here in the city,” she continued. “It’s a place that blends the heritage with the other aspects that make a university—this one—amazing. I love talking to students and sharing about reconnecting or restrengthening relationships and partnerships and how we can all work together.”

Mikell thrives on sharing what she’s learned from others with students on campus. 

“I’ll speak to classes and advise them about post-graduation and real life. We want students to ask questions and think about their future. We want them wondering and saying, ‘I think I want to…’ or ‘when I graduate, what’s it like to…’ and other questions. However, I also learn a lot from the students and I’m able to ask them questions and talk about what they’re doing now versus what they want to do.”

“Our students are from a different generation, so they have a much different lens than we do. It’s so helpful to have conversations whether it’s in a formal setting or hanging out in the student union. We want to make sure what we’re doing truly impacts the people we’re doing it for.”

Mikell insists Savannah is one of the best cities in the world because it is such a community. 

“You’re always able to call somebody if you need help. It’s like a big family in a lot of ways. One person I credit—which is why I mentioned the chamber—is Erica Backus [Director of Public Relations at Visit Savannah] who I interned for in 2012. Even today, I can pick up the phone and call her when I have a question, concern, or whatever. I feel like that’s one thing that’s unique to Savannah. We all want Savannah to win.”

That’s what it’s really about, Mikell stated.

“We can all root for Savannah. People want to help each other. Not just talk about things, but actually do them. It truly is a community and we’re all in this together.”

When Mikell steps away from her busy work life, she has one place that calls to her.

“Of course, everyone loves the food here, but when I need a getaway, I love that the beach is close enough. I love the beach. Everything about it. What’s so great is we have the big buildings downtown, but you’ve also got the beach, ocean, and relaxation only 20 minutes away.”

Mikell said strong leadership is everywhere you look in town. 

“It’s impressive how Savannah is becoming a huge powerhouse in terms of the Economic Development Authority and our ports. They’re the top in the country. We work hard here, but we also enjoy our time off, our weather, and the beauty of the surrounding area.”

“I’m feeling nostalgic because I’m at my anniversary at Savannah State University. It has really helped mold me into the person I am and… still becoming,” she said of her alma mater and employer. “I’m extremely grateful to be back home in a sense and working to do things for our students in our community.”

She said anyone can make the effort to lead. 

“My advice is to just do the right thing for the right reason. Leadership isn’t necessarily leading a group. It can be something small which is typically how it is with me. I start with what can I do to make the biggest impact and then try to do the right thing for the right reason.”

When she’s not working hard, she loves spending time with her family, particularly her 17-year-old daughter, who loves exploring the city with her mom.

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