Behind the Woman | Penn State Altoona

From Newark to Altoona to Indianapolis to Syracuse: as Juhanna Rogers moved through each of these cities, she gathered the skills and experience to turn her passions into a thriving career and fulfilling life.


Rogers says her hometown, Newark, New Jersey, was her cultural foundation. This is where she learned to celebrate African and Black American culture, the place that shaped her commitment to social justice, education and the arts.

That commitment led her to Penn State Altoona in 2000. Upon his arrival, Rogers found herself in another world: Newark, a bustling, vibrant hub of activity and diversity; Penn State Altoona, a predominantly white college in a predominantly white rural area. But she immediately jumped in and built a community of students, faculties and staff of all races. She became a resident assistant, president of the Black Student Union, and became involved in the dance program.

Surrounded by the support of the faculty, including KT Huckabee and Rebecca Strzelec and staff members such as Marlene Liska, Noel Feeley, Harriett Gaston and Kenny Macklin, Rogers began writing, directing and producing artistic performances that celebrated Black history and culture.

These shows have become popular across campus and Blair County. Some even sold out.

At the end of her sophomore year, Rogers was invited to attend the local NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund Dinner. When her name was announced as the recipient of the Woman of the Year award, she was stunned. “At first I did not realize they were talking about me. I was barely 20 years old and received that award. It was crazy, but it really confirmed the strength of my performance and the work I did. ”

Supported by the recognition, Rogers continued to write. During a semester abroad in Spain, she wrote a full-length play for her senior integrative art project. When she returned to Penn State Altoona, she took a class that included set building. She auditioned and organized a technical team. By the time of the month leading up to Rogers’ graduation ceremony, it had nearly 70 students, faculty, and staff involved and had three nearly sold-out performances. Rogers remembers it as a magical time in her life.

When the graduation ceremony began in 2004, Rogers considered her next step. “I thought that what I achieved as a university student changed the community and the student body. So, I kept saying to myself, ‘Juhanna, you’re called to do something more.’

Covers of two theater programs

Programs from two of Rogers’ Penn State Altoona productions.

Credit: Provided

Act II

With that firm conviction and confidence, Rogers decided to move on to school. She was accepted to the University of Indiana to study higher education and student affairs, her passion for supporting colored students was her dedication. “I thought about what people at Penn State Altoona did very deliberately to open up space for us to celebrate who we are. I knew I wanted to be that person on campus for students who look like me and need support and mentorship. “

Once again, Rogers packed up and moved to a new state where she knew no one. She once again found herself socially and culturally isolated as one of only a few colored women in the graduate program. She used the skills she learned in Altoona to encourage relationships and get to know her love of movement and storytelling by getting involved in the university’s dance program. She also performed plays at the Madam Walker Legacy Center.

Rogers used those same skills after earning her master’s degree and staying at the university as a deputy instructor for the Department of Africana Studies. In addition to teaching, she has developed study abroad and international exchange programs, recruited and increased African-American and Latino student enrollments, helped develop online courses that explore African- and African-American Diaspora through education and popular culture, and service projects and workshops designed and facilitated.

After learning what it takes to develop programming that supports the retention of Black and Brown students on campus and in the communities around them, Rogers went on to enroll a second time at Indiana University to pursue a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies. Her research has focused on critical race theory, racism in education, and the international experiences of black students and scholars.

When she graduated in 2016, she and seven of her colleagues were christened The Great8, the largest number of black women who simultaneously completed doctoral requirements at the university’s School of Education.

The Big 8 was selected as Ebony magazine’s Power 100 Honors for change makers in education. “I was humble, because again, like the Woman of the Year award, it was not something I applied for, but it was something from the blood, sweat and tears of my work, our work, that made the community worthy. deemed it. . And that meant everything, because what I was committed to was on behalf of the community. ”

After graduation, Rogers traveled the world exploring how underrepresented populations, specifically people of African descent, could improve their lives and communities. Using those experiences, she served as Director of Health Programs for Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility, Inc. She then took a position as director of community engagement and empowerment for Center City CEO, a business leadership organization and business chamber also in Syracuse.

After two years in that position, Rogers became vice president for racial equality and social impact at the company, where she creates inclusive spaces for all members of the community to live and thrive.

“I sit at the leadership table with many business leaders from across the country, and I challenge them to think differently about how they promote more inclusive spaces. I push the boundaries and normalities that exist when it comes to social justice. I let them know it was time to put theory into practice. ”

As always, Rogers uses that philosophy in all aspects of her life, especially the arts.

Behind the Woman

Rogers sees it as her personal mission to encourage colored women to live out loud and inexplicably walk into who they are. She became passionate about bringing narratives out of the women she met on her own journey.

In 2019, she became the creator, executive producer and host of Behind the Woman in partnership with WCNY / PBS. The YouTube series features personal stories from diverse women leaders who inspire and empower other women to pursue their goals and dreams.

“It’s about showcasing some of the brilliant black and brown women in the area who have things to say. We are more than just our titles. We experience things and feel things. There is something powerful when people can sit down and hear someone’s lived experience in a way that is thoughtful and deliberate. Regardless of race, color and gender, we can see the human connection. ”

The third season will begin in October 2022.

Juhanna Rogers spends time with students during a recent visit to Penn State Altoona

Juhanna Rogers spends time with students during a recent visit to Penn State Altoona.

Credit: Provided

Rogers’ extensive research on racial experiences of black students and faculties plays an enormous role in her writing and drama writing.

She is a contributing author to several blogs commenting on higher education and the Black Woman’s experience. Her poetry was published in the anthology Divine Feminis. Several of her plays, including A meeting place and For Harrietwas produced and performed on stage.

This summer, held over the June weekend, was the first Queendom’s Art Festival in Cazenovia, New York. Conceptualized by Rogers, the event celebrated Black excellence in the arts with performances and other entertainment. The festival also featured readings from Rogers’ new work, Kingdoman interactive experience in the process that explores the dream and possibility of repairs.

“Juhanna is a collector — a collector of experiences and people,” said Huckabee, who attended the festival. “Her tribe is getting bigger. She is always exploring, learning, teaching and creating, and always with a clear message to share. ”

Rogers is not even close to finishing what she can and wants to do. She can see how she teaches in art programs and does talking work on a larger scale, expands behind the woman and travels the world to share her work. She’s only half joking about being the next Oprah. And she dreams of her theater work running on Broadway and going on tour.

With her ambition, nothing seems unattainable to Rogers.

“It’s crazy. It’s so crazy. None of this was an orchestrated plan, it all developed. I just kept making choices that felt right to me, and here I am. I think that speaks to the importance and significance. “Building the confidence to choose the job you want to do. Just keep choosing.”

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