Lillie Frazier Bell retired from Northwestern State University in 2018, having served as the university’s first female and first Black registrar, leading a loyal staff known for its efficiency and professionalism. Bell had planned to spend retirement travelling and spending time with family, but COVID-19 forced the cancellation of a special trip to Australia and other activities.
Bell graduated from St. Matthew High School near Melrose in 1966 and earned an associate degree in secretarial science from Natchitoches Technical College in 1971. She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at NSU in 1985 and a master’s in Student Personnel Services in 1998.
Bell worked in the Office of the Registrar for 31 years, 22 as registrar and nine as assistant registrar, during which time there were many changes at the university – in administration, in technology and in wider culture. She worked with four university presidents, Dr. Robert Alost, Dr. Randall J. Webb, Dr. Jim Henderson and Dr. Chris Maggio. Bell made certain that each new administration was aware of state and federal laws and that policies, regulations and procedures were followed at NSU.
Keeping busy and having just received her first COVID-19 vaccination, Bell was doing well last week when she made time for a Zoom chat with a former colleague about her years as Registrar, the rewards of her long career and some of her current endeavors.
NSU: In your career, there were many changes at the university. What were some ways you had to adapt?
LB: When I first started working at NSU, we had arena type registration. I would set-up the Student Union building for advisement and registration. We used machines, which were called terminals to register students. Once computers were made available in academic departments, I assisted with the implementation and training of faculty, advisors and staff members to process registration for students. Even though students were able to register in their academic departments, but they still had to go to Prather Coliseum and stand in long lines to pay their fees.
After the free drop add period, students would have to come to the Office of the Registrar and wait in long lines to register, add, and drop courses, etc. Faculty had to use grade books and grade rosters to record their grades.
I assisted with the implementation of four different Student Information Systems (SIS, SIS-PLUS, SIS 2000, and the BANNER System) Web for Faculty and Advisors, Web for Students, and three different Degree Audit systems. I also was responsible for granting access to and the ensuring the security of these different systems. These implemented systems enabled students to register, add and drop their classes, view their graduation requirements, view their midterm and final grades, request their academic transcript, etc. In addition, these enhanced systems allowed faculty members to enter their own grades, advise students, register students and perform other functions.
NSU: What were some challenges you overcame during your time as Registrar?
LB: My biggest challenge was the implementation of the Banner Student Information System. With Banner, we had to relearn everything. The entire office had to relearn how to do their job. Another challenge was to ensure that all staff members were given the opportunity to engage in professional development and training session to enable them to deliver excellent administrative and academic services.
Some of the proudest moments of my career were the fact that the Office of the Registrar was known as a number one leader for the implementation of advanced student technology applications and the consistent display and devotion, loyalty and teamwork from my staff members that made me feel blessed and proud to have them on my side.
NSU: What are some memorable moments that you carried with you?
LB: Successful leadership in organizing more than 60 different commencement ceremonies. During one semester, I had to supervise and coordinate five commencement ceremonies while Prather Coliseum was being repaired. Another memorable moment was when the parking lot at Prather Coliseum was under complete construction. I had to supervise and coordinate the parking for two commencement ceremonies for over 5,000 people.
NSU: What were some funny or rewarding times?
LB: There were times when we would receive requests from students for their transcripts. When we could not locate a transcript for these students, they would argue and insist that they attended and know that they received grades from Northwestern State University. Later, I would discover that they attended Northwestern University in Illinois.
Some rewarding times were when a student or students would send me a postcard, telephone call or come in person and just say “Thank you.” Also, it was and still is rewarding to hear from former NSU students that I made an impact in their lives.
NSU: As a woman of color, did you set out to “break the glass ceiling” and did you find acceptance in your leadership role at NSU?
LB: No, I did not set out to “break the glass ceiling.” My mother instilled in me to always do my best in whatever job I had. I was the first Black woman to be hired and hold the position of secretary/bookkeeper/circulation assistant at the Natchitoches Parish Library from April 1971 to August of 1981. I did my best in that job.
I was the first Black woman to be appointed as the assistant registrar at NSU in 1989. At first, it was hard, and the pressure was sometimes unbearable. I learned and performed all job functions in the Registrar’s Office. I became known and respected by the University community as the “go-to person” for the Office of the Registrar while serving as the assistant registrar.
I did find acceptance in my leadership role at NSU. I was the first Black woman to be appointed as the University Registrar at NSU and held that position from January 1996 until I retired on June 30, 2018. During my tenure as Registrar, I had the support and acceptance of the former University President Dr. Webb, who used to be a registrar at another institution. He was aware of the difficulties that I encountered as Registrar. I also had the support and acceptance from several provosts and vice presidents for Academic Affairs, and from Carl Jones, the vice president for Business Affairs. I chaired 10 different committees, and many times was the only Black woman. I was not intimidated because I knew my job and was respected by members of the committees. I felt that my leadership role at NSU was respected, accepted and most of the times appreciated by the University community.
I assisted and served students, faculty, and staff from a wide variety of different cultures. My motto was and still is to follow the Golden Rule – to do unto others as I would have them to do unto me.
NSU: A lot of people do not realize everything that the Registrar is responsible for. Did your duties expand as technology became more integrated into higher education?
LB: Yes, it is so true that a lot of people do not realize everything that the Registrar is responsible for. I consider the Office of the Registrar to be the front door of the University. The Office of the Registrar assists students from admission to the University to graduation from the University. This is the only office on campus that has a never-ending relationship with students due to their academic records.
The expansion of technology required me to stay abreast of many computer software programs. I had to become more involved in the implementation of related integrated technology applications in support of enhanced student academic services.
NSU: Your staff was known for its efficiency. Did you model that professionalism?
LB: Yes. As Registrar, one of my main goals and mission were to provide effective and professional academic service to students, faculty and staff. I also thrived to maintain the highest level of academic integrity according to state and federal guidelines.
NSU: The staff in the Registrar’s office is mostly women. Is that a change from when you began your career?
LB: No, there was only one male in the Registrar’s office when I first started working there as a typist clerk.
NSU: When you retired, you said you intended to travel, but COVID threw a wrench into those plans. How do you keep busy and what are your plans?
LB: At first, my husband and I did travel from August 2018 – February 2020. We do intend to continue traveling once the pandemic is over or cleared.
I keep busy — sometimes too busy. I am the owner and business manager of Bell’s Rental Properties, LLC. Also, I am working at home part-time for our three adult children as a business manager for Bell’s Graphics Creativitees; serving as consultant for Bell Healthcare Training School and Bell’s Properties, LLC; and Bell-Anderson We Truck 4 You, LLC.
I am happily married to my husband, Willie Bell. We will celebrate our 54th wedding anniversary this year in October. We have two sons, Darrin C. Bell and his wife Letecia and Christopher R. Bell and his wife Yolanda, and one daughter, Cassaundra R. Bell Anderson and her husband Mark; 10 Grandchildren, one grandson-in-law, and one granddaughter-in-law. Also, we are expecting the delivery of our first great grandson in July of this year.
I am spending more time studying my Bible, listening to spiritual music and sermons. I am still enjoying my retired life. My plans are to continue to enjoy my current career as an owner and business manager and assisting my adult children with their business affairs as needed. I love being a wife, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law and looking forward to being a great grandmother. I love spending time with my husband and my family.
I enjoyed my life as registrar and have so much respect for the faculty and staff and university family. It makes you feel good that you had an impact on so many lives.