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Gladys Gary Vaughn Biography

Juggled Full Schedule as Child, Began Career in Home Economics, Launched Second Career with USDA


Organization leader

A recognized expert in family and social science, Gladys Gary Vaughn has forged a 30-year career in helping people improve the quality of their lives. "I've always believed in social justice. It is a deeply held belief of mine," she told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). To that end, she has spoken before Congress and on the talk show Geraldo. She has published scholarly papers, appeared at international seminars, and been quoted in The New York Times. More importantly, her expertise has guided policies and programs that have positively affected thousands throughout the world.

Juggled Full Schedule
as Child

Born Gladys Gary in the early 1940s in Ocala, Florida, Vaughn was the middle of five children of Homer and Ollie Colden Gary. Her mother was an elementary school teacher while her father ran the family's large farm. The combination led to a very disciplined household. "In our family we were expected to do well in the sense that my mother and father were determined to see all of us through high school and college," Vaughn told CBB. "So they provided a home environment that encouraged that." She continued, "In addition to school we were sent to music lessons (I took piano), and were expected to participate in school and church activities. I was very active in 4H [and] New Homemakers of America (NHA). I was also in student government, played basketball, participated in the yearly school play, and was a cheerleader."

If that wasn't enough to keep the young Vaughn busy, there was always farm work. "We had to feed the animals and help during planting and harvesting season," Vaughn told CBB. On the weekends there was church. "We belonged to the African Methodist Church and our parents expected us to not only go to church but to go to Sunday school and all church-related activities," Vaughn explained. Though it may seem a heavy schedule for a child, Vaughn explained that her parent's expectations were typical of the time. "I grew up in the segregated years and it was the pattern of your life," Vaughn told CBB. "Everybody knew everybody and the parents formed a community to protect the children. We were kept active as much to keep us safe as to help us to do well in life."

Following high school Vaughn attended Florida A&M University and earned a degree in home economics in 1964. She returned to Florida where she worked for two years as a high school teacher before receiving a scholarship to Iowa State University in 1966. "[The scholarship] was part of a program from the Johnson Administration to improve secondary school education," Vaughn explained to CBB. "It was designed to increase the educational background of people who would become principals and administrators in secondary schools. There were 20 scholarship recipients at Iowa State, 18 were white males, one was a white female, and there was me." Vaughn earned a master's degree in home economics education from the school in 1968.

Began Career in Home Economics

In 1969 Vaughn and husband Dr. Joseph B. Vaughn, Jr., moved to North Carolina. "He was doing graduate school [at North Carolina Central University] and I took a job in the Home Economics department," Vaughn told CBB. In 1972 the university gave Vaughn a sabbatical from her teaching duties to pursue a doctorate. At the University of Maryland Vaughn earned a Ph.D. in home economics and educational administration in only two years. "North Carolina had given me a two year leave of absence to get my doctorate, so I got it done in that time and then returned to work at North Carolina again," Vaughn explained to CBB.

While at the University of Maryland, Vaughn had worked part-time at the American Home Economics Association (now the American Association of Family and Consumer Science AAFCS) in Washington, D.C., and in 1976 the organization offered her a full-time job. She and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., where he set up a medical practice, and as Vaughn explained to CBB, she "stayed with [AAFCS] for more than 20 years." AAFCS is dedicated to improving individual and family life by providing educational programs and influencing public policy. During Vaughn's two decades with the group she contributed extensively to this mission, holding positions in fundraising, research, program development, international planning, and grant writing.

After retiring from the AAFCS in 1995, Vaughn focused her efforts on the Odyssey Group, a family and consumer science consultancy she founded in 1994. The firm provided curriculum creation, grant writing, proposal development, and leadership training. Vaughn also offered seminars on professional, societal, and family life topics. Some of Odyssey's more prominent projects included Families First: Nutrition Education and Wellness System, a nutritional education program for food stamp recipients; Teen Leadership Connection, a youth development program sponsored by Texas's Prairie View A&M University; and the Team Nutrition Community Action Kit, a nutrition education program for the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CREES), a division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). "All three of the programs won awards," Vaughn proudly noted to CBB.

At a Glance …

Born in 1942(?) in Ocala, FL; married Dr. Joseph B. Vaughn, Jr. (deceased), 1966. Education: Florida A&M University, BS, home economics education and clothing and textiles, 1966; Iowa State University, MS, home economics education, 1968; University of Maryland-College Park, PhD, home economics education and administration, 1974. Religion: African Methodist Episcopal.

Career: North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC, assistant professor, home economics, 1969-72, 1974-75; American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (formerly American Home Economics Association), Washington, DC, various positions, 1975-1995; The Odyssey Group, Cabin John, MD, president, 1994–; Human Sciences Outreach, Families, 4-H and Nutrition Unit, Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, US Department of Agriculture, Washington DC, national program leader, 1998-2004; Office of Outreach, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, US Department of Agriculture, Washington DC, director, 2004–.

Selected memberships: The Links, Inc., and The Links Foundation, Inc., national president; National Consumers League, member, board of directors; Black Patriots Foundation, member, board of directors; Home Economics Association for Africa, member; Mission Center, American Baptist Churches of the South, member, board of directors.

Selected awards: US Department of Agriculture, Outstanding Performance Award, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004; Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, Distinguished Service Award, 2000; Coalition for Black Development in Home Economics, Outstanding Service Award, 2000; US Department of Agriculture, Superior Performance Award, 2002; Secretary of Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, Secretary's Honor Award for Superior Service, 2004.

Addresses: Office—The Links, Inc, 1200 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20005. Home—Cabin John, MD.

Launched Second Career with USDA

In 1998 Vaughn joined CREES full-time as the National Program Leader for Human Sciences Research for the Families, 4-H and Nutrition Unit. In that role she acted as a liaison with civic, corporate, academic, and government groups, to provide advice and assistance on all types of human sciences programs. In addition she co-founded the successful Food and Nutrition Summer Institute, an annual seminar that encourages educators to introduce innovative nutrition and physical education programs into their schools. However one of Vaughn's proudest achievements at the USDA was the founding of a mentoring program within the department. The USDA, like most government agencies, ranks employees by grade. As you move up from position to position your grade also increases. "Often there is miscommunication between the grades, and between races," Vaughn told CBB. "Also those at the lower grades don't often recognize the opportunities they can have as they move up." To combat this Vaughn developed a program that allows employees in lower grades to be mentored by those in higher grades. "It created the opportunity to create a community of excellence," Vaughn told CBB. The USDA agreed and in 2004 the program was awarded its highest prize, the Secretary's Honor Award.

In May of 2004 Vaughn left CREES to become the director of outreach for the USDA. Each agency within the department has an outreach office and Vaughn's job was to coordinate the efforts of all of them. "The office is set up to ensure that citizens have access to all of the programs and services of the department. It is particularly aimed at un-and underserved clients," Vaughn told CBB.

Throughout her career with both the AAFCS and the USDA, Vaughn has built a reputation as one of the country's foremost authorities on family and consumer sciences, particularly related to the African-American and Hispanic communities. She authored dozens of papers and programs on topics as diverse as leadership, latchkey kids, developing nations, family planning, and legislative processes. She was a principal architect behind several ground-breaking social programs dealing with issues such as teenage pregnancy, childhood self-esteem, and physical activity. She has also been active in several initiatives in Africa and the Caribbean, from rural health care to agriculture and nutrition. Her skill in grant writing and fundraising has resulted in over $12 million in funding for many of these programs. These experiences have made her a sought-after public speaker and landed her on the advisory committees of several prominent universities. It has also earned her a slew of awards including the 2000 Distinguished Service Award from AAFCS, the highest honor in the field of family and consumer science.

Dedicated to Community Service

The discipline that carried Vaughn through a childhood of scheduled activity carried through in her career. In addition to her heavy work load, Vaughn has been very active in community service. She has served on the boards of many groups including the Black Patriots Foundation, Black Women's Agenda, and the National Consumer's League. She also co-founded the National Coalition for Black Development in Home Economics in 1980. Since childhood Vaughn has also remained very active in the African Methodist Church. However Vaughn's most active community service has been with The Links, Inc., an international service organization of women of African ancestry. Vaughn became involved in the group in 1982 when she became the founding president of the Potomac, Virginia, chapter. In 1986 she moved up to the national level when she was appointed to the group's executive council.

In 20 years with The Links, Vaughn has played a key role in initiatives from drug and alcohol prevention for minority youth in Washington, D.C., to national organ donor programs. She helped design and/or secure funding for several important national programs including Links To Success: Children Achieving Excellence, an early education program for underachieving minority children and High Expectations!, an adolescent pregnancy prevention project. Her activity propelled Vaughn to the group's vice presidency in 1998. In 2002 she became its president.

As national president of the 10,000-plus member group, Vaughn maintained a calendar full of meetings, consultations, and speaking appointments. Add that to what she told CBB was her "more than a full-time job" at the USDA and her resultant schedule was near bursting. It didn't phase Vaughn though. Drawing on a determination inherited from her parents, as well as her own commitment to social change, Vaughn told CBB, "I believe in doing your best no matter what your job is. And I believe deeply in a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. And I believe in being disciplined in your work."



"Soror Gladys Gary Vaughn, Ph.D.," Delta Sigma Theta, www.geocities.com/taunotabledeltas/ (August 22, 2004).


Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Gladys Gary Vaughn on September 19, 2004, and biographical materials from The Links, Inc.

—Candace LaBalle

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