University of South Carolina

At home at Preston

Preston Residential College Principal Bobby Donaldson welcomes students home

By Peggy Binette,, 803-777-7704

This year’s move-in theme “Welcome Home” was particularly fitting for Preston College Principal Bobby Donaldson, who with his wife Elise and two children Ruby, 7, and Joseph, 2, welcomed a new crop of students to the residential college and their home. The Donaldson family lives in a three-bedroom apartment in Preston where they mentor students and experience the college journey with them. This fall marks the associate history professor’s fourth year as faculty principal.

Donaldson took a break during move-in to reflect on the experience:

What attracted you to be a faculty principal?

Elise and I are both products of small liberal arts colleges. I attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and the models of academic leadership I witnessed there continue to stir my passion for teaching and engagement with students beyond the walls of the classroom.The principal’s position at Preston College affords me a unique opportunity to channel my commitments to active learning, collaborative research, civic engagement and mentoring in a directed approach with a dynamic and diverse cohort of student leaders and scholars.

What has surprised you the most?

Before serving as principal, much of my contact with students was within the classroom or in collaborations around our shared interests in history or African American Studies. Now, in casual conversations in my office or at dinner, I spend time with students with a wide array of intellectual and co-curricular interests. It has been quite a learning experience to witness the creative talents and the diverse interactions among our 230 residents and the nearly 40 faculty and members of our community who regularly dine with students and volunteer their time as Preston Associates.

Your own family has grown in size while living in Preston. What has that been like?

Raising a family on the university campus has been an extraordinary experience. The kids have thoroughly enjoyed their time here. Indeed, this is the only home that Joseph knows. The nooks and crannies of our building, our garden, the Horseshoe and the Thomas Cooper fountain are their playgrounds. Our children have built some amazing relationships with Preston residents. They take great pride in our fish tank. They play the piano in our Junior Common Room. Ruby regularly hosts “Coloring and Cupcake” night for students, and just this week Joseph and one of the Preston Ambassadors discovered their mutual interest in toy trains.

Have there been particularly memorable moments?

Several exciting moments stand out: holding office hours from 9 p.m. to midnight; taking a group of students for a service learning trip to the Penn Center on St. Helena Island; sponsoring a jam session with the legendary blues artist Drink Small and Kelly Morris, one of our former residents; watching Ruby and Joseph playing hide and seek in Preston Dining with children of associates; joining students on a personalized tour of the F. Scott Fitzgerald collection; and of course, our annual Gatsby celebration where students and faculty are honored for their achievements.

This year marks the 50th commemoration of USC’s desegregation. What does it mean to you to be able to share that experience with students?

Interestingly enough, one of the first presentations I made in Preston as a faculty associate nearly 10 years ago was about the history of African-Americans on our campus. This year’s commemoration provides an arena for students to understand the historic struggle for progress and the remarkable journey we have made in the past 50 years. As much as we mark these milestones, I believe the university is compelled to be forever vigilant to make certain that we are as diverse and as inclusive an institution as we can be. The challenge for all of us is to find those areas of common interest and of common aspirations. I believe this is the vital role of institutions of higher learning—where we become laboratories for these discoveries. Preston College is one remarkable example of this ideal.

Meet Bobby Donaldson

  • Associate professor of history
  • Preston Residential College principal
  • Bachelor's degree, Wesleyan University; doctoral degree, Emory University
  • W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research Fellow at Harvard University (2005- 2006)
  • Michael J. Mungo Award for Undergraduate Teaching (2010)
  • Wesleyan University Board of Trustees member
  • 2013 Outstanding Faculty Partner Award from USC’s Division of Student Affairs and Academic Support
  • Lead historian and consultant for the City of Columbia's Columbia 1963 civil rights project.

About Preston

  • Preston Residential College opened its doors in 1995.
  • Home to 232 undergraduate students, three graduate mentors and a faculty principal.

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Posted: 08/20/13 @ 3:30 PM | Updated: 08/21/13 @ 8:32 AM | Permalink