Mary Holroyd smiling

First-gen American, Mary Holroyd: Don't be afraid to chase your interests

Wayne State University alumnae, Mary Holroyd, is no stranger to hard work. A first-generation American whose family migrated to the United States with just one suitcase in hand, Holroyd earned her Ph.D. at Wayne State University and has gone on to become an innovative leader in the field of early childhood education.

Holroyd majored in the humanities and minored in Spanish during her undergraduate education at Wayne State. During this time, she worked at General Motors to support her then-husband, who was pursuing his doctorate. She took night classes in order to finish her degree quickly. During her undergraduate studies, she began tutoring children in Spanish. At Wayne State University, Holroyd fell in love with early childhood development.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Holroyd moved to Wisconsin. She tried studying social work and pursuing an education in law but found that they were not good fits. During this time, Holroyd recalled the passion she found tutoring at WSU. She decided to get her master’s in childhood development at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and did so while completing her teacher’s certification.

Holroyd returned to Detroit to enroll in Wayne State’s Ph.D. program, where she studied educational leadership. Holroyd taught in the Detroit Public Schools and took classes at the same time.

After receiving her PhD., Holroyd took a position in the Wake County Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina as principal and designer of the first licensed extended day elementary school in the Southeast United States, offering a before and after school program for working parents.  For this innovative program, she was recognized with the Outstanding Young Educator Award. She then served as program director for North Carolina’s Child Day Care Services.

Soon after, Holroyd was offered a position at Duke University, where she taught child development and was a student-teacher supervisor. 

“While I was a professor at Duke, I found my humanities degree incredibly useful. It made it easier for my students to relate to me,” Holroyd said. “I always encourage my students to strive to do the best they can.” 

Holroyd has expansive experience in school systems, from being a teacher, Head Start coordinator, director, principal and parent. She has put that knowledge to work. She wrote the textbook Creative Activities for Young Children, which is now in its eleventh edition and has been translated in Spanish and Japanese. Most recently, Holroyd and her daughter, Claire Holroyd, have teamed up to create the website Skilly-do. The site — which can be found at — brings families simple ways to discover their preschooler's growing creativity through expert blogs and easy activities.”

In addition to her work in child development, Holroyd serves as an education docent at the North Carolina Museum of Art. 

“I am learning all the time at the museum,” she said. “The basics from my humanities degree and the art history classes I took enhanced my ability to educate others at the museum.” 

Holroyd encourages all people to pursue their passions, and to keep going, even when it is hard. “My humanities degree was the beginning of my journey to education, and it has always led me in good stead.”

Written by CLAS communications associate Christiana Castillo