As a boy growing up in Gary, Indiana, Roger Pulliam was hungry for education. He became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, and followed that milestone with another, becoming a first-generation college student.
“The result of those experiences made me think anybody had the potential to be successful if they worked hard and had the right support along their journeys,” he said.
Pulliam’s passion for learning blossomed into a nearly 60-year career in education in which he showed an unrelenting devotion to representing, including, and advocating for diverse students and educators and promoting the success of his students and community.
His efforts are so remarkable that he is the inaugural recipient of Lifetime of Service Award, from the Wisconsin State Council on Affirmative Action. He will be celebrated at the Council’s annual Diversity Awards Ceremony at the Wisconsin State Capitol Assembly Chambers on Thursday, Oct. 24.
The first time Pulliam visited Wisconsin was in 1963, as a member of the Western Michigan University football team playing the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers. Little did he know that, more than two decades later, he would return to Wisconsin to join the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he worked in various roles from 1989 to 2018.
During his tenure at UW-Whitewater, he served as assistant vice chancellor of academic support services, director of advancement and, most recently, interim chief diversity officer.
Pulliam devoted his time to opening the doors of education to everyone. He won state and federal funding to enhance the achievement of first-generation, low-income and multicultural students at UW-Whitewater. He also succeeded in helping hundreds of students participate in travel-study experiences. These efforts extended to his work as a founding member in 1998 of the Office of National Black Student Union, fostering numerous co-curricular experiences for students.
“I knew that regardless of the high school they attended, if students came to UW-Whitewater, we had the resources and the determination to get the best out of them,” he said.
As a champion of equity and inclusion, alumni spanning several decades credit Pulliam as their guiding light and hero — compelling them not just to complete an undergraduate degree, but to seek advanced degrees. Many of his students have gone on to make tremendous contributions to the State of Wisconsin and the country at large.
He inspired students and alumni — especially those from diverse and first-generation backgrounds — to contribute to the growth and success of the university.
“He was relentless in making sure we were connected to the university community so we could be successful. From engaging us in career services and cultural excursions, to taking us to athletic events and professional conferences, he made sure we were well-rounded students who understood that education takes place beyond the classroom,” said Monica Kelsey-Brown, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UW-Whitewater and her Ph.D. from UW-Madison. She is now the assistant superintendent at Brown Deer School District. (Pictured, right)
Pulliam continues to motivate alumni to understand the importance of giving back to the institution that nurtured them. The Pulliam-Dunlap Scholarship at UW-Whitewater includes the name of the aunt who raised him and his eight brothers and sisters.
“He taught us to be leaders, to have a sense of ownership, and to remain connected,” said Kelsey-Brown. “His example inspired me to endow a scholarship, and to become a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Education and Professional Studies. By mentoring us, he was leaving a legacy.”
UW-Whitewater recognized Pulliam’s career and contributions with the S.A. White Award in 2013. He also served as commencement speaker for Winter Commencement in 2015.