Tonya Davis, '02, M.S.Ed. '09, Ph.D. '17, Listens and Finds Her Truth

By Lia Kizilbash Gillet

Dr. Tonya Davis is a faculty member at Walden University, a practicing psychotherapist and DEI consultant.

Triple Huskie Tonya Davis, ‘02, M.S.Ed. ‘09, Ph.D. ’17, would sit with the women in her church every Sunday and naturally create a welcoming space, asking them questions and listening. The women in the group connected to Davis, they felt seen and heard.

One day, in passing, her pastor suggested that she should return to school and become a counselor. 

“And, as they say, the rest is history,” Davis laughed, finding humor in a single comment charting her career course.

Davis had already earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational and corporate communications from NIU.

“I needed to get a great education that was close to home,” she said when asked what led her to NIU initially. “As a non-traditional student, finding a balance between receiving my education and being a working mother of two small children was important. NIU did that for me, and I am eternally grateful.”

Davis said NIU became her go-to whenever she needed to level up in her career. So, when considering her pastor’s advice, she automatically turned to Northern.

“My experience with faculty was always encouraging throughout my years at NIU,” she said. “And while in my master’s program, I had the opportunity to begin teaching. My goal was to get my tuition paid in exchange, but what I received in return was far more than that. I discovered my love of teaching. Once I got the bug, I knew I had to go back and get my doctorate.”

During her doctorate program, Davis met Dr. Teresa Fisher, who significantly impacted her life. 

“She was my dissertation chair and the epitome of an ally and advocate. I am truly grateful for her invaluable mentorship,” Davis shared.

Today, holding the Triple Huskie title, Davis is a core faculty member at Walden University, teaching online master’s level courses in clinical mental health counseling. She is also a psychotherapist in both her clinical practice, Davis and Associates LLC, and with BetterHelp. Davis held prior roles as clinical training director and core faculty member at Northwestern University’s The Family Institute, the Center for Applied and Psychological & Family Studies. She spent 11 years at Neurocare and Family Services in Wheaton, Illinois.  

In addition to teaching and carrying a client caseload, Davis serves as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consultant for other practicing clinicians and educators.

“It is not uncommon for professionals to need or desire support around sharpening their cultural competency or to work on what cultural humility means to them,” Davis explained. “I consult with organizations, conduct DEI workshops and provide one-on-one BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) coaching when needed. I am inspired to continue in this space, as some people don’t have a voice and are often erased.”

In her clinical practice settings, Davis focuses on helping clients understand themselves in totality.

“There are many aspects to one’s identity,” she said. “I help my clients identify them and explore how these various aspects intersect and impact their ability to move forward.”

Davis takes pride in her work, being a mom, sharing life with her amazing partner, Rodney, and placing importance on living a well-balanced life, including holding season tickets for NIU men’s basketball.

“I love what I do, and I’m very intentional about where I spend my time so I can keep doing what matters most to me and my family,” she shared.

As a self-described “truth teller,” Davis recently returned to NIU to participate in a panel discussion celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day and engaged in discussions surrounding representation, support, equitable resources, and advocacy.

During the panel, Davis shared her truth of “sometimes feeling unseen as a woman and as a woman of color.” She hopes her work can help remove some of the challenges she faced for the next generation and serve as a role model to younger women.

Speaking at local, national and international conferences, Davis shares her wisdom worldwide. She is an editorial board member of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling and is an NIU Counseling and Consultative Services advisory board member.

“I am doing what I was created to do and not wasting time in the process,” she remarked referring to the various tasks she juggles. “I also give myself grace. I stay flexible to bend and not break, and I take time for self-care, which is not selfish.”

Davis continues to strive to reach new heights in her professional career. Still, she says no matter what path she’s on in her career or what title she holds, the foundation of all achievement starts with listening, and truly listening to understand.

“Be slow to speak and quick to listen,” she emphasized. “This scripture is a great reminder for me in everything I do.”