Introductory Address

Building on Strength and Excellence Through Community

May 9, 2017

Wow, what a welcome! I am so thrilled to be here today. Words cannot describe. Since the day that the announcement came out that I would be the next president at Bowie State University, I have received the most wonderful messages – emails and text messages – from the campus and from this community. I’m overwhelmed by the warm welcome that I have received from so many of you. Thank you very much for welcoming me to this campus, even before I stepped foot on this campus. So, I already feel that I’m a part of the Bowie State University community. Thank you so much for that.

I am very proud and as I’m sure you can tell, excited, to be your next president! Today I see as a beginning of a new journey. And as we begin this journey, together, as a community, I want to first thank the members of the Presidential Search Committee, myself, along with the Chancellor and the Board of Regents, for bestowing upon me your trust, and the honor and privilege of becoming the 10th president of Bowie State University. Thank you so very much. Thank you to everyone who was part of the process.

Bowie State University, I’m looking forward to getting around the campus – today and in the months to come – and getting to know each and every one of you. It’s going to take me a little while to get around the campus, so I won’t be able to do it all today. But trust me, I will make my way around, and I do want to hear about you and your stories and what Bowie State University means to you.

To the current president, Dr. Burnim, I say thank you, for your leadership over these last 11 years—for the ways that you have given of yourself and the dedication you have shown to Bowie State University. Congratulations on your many accomplishments that you have done on behalf of Bowie State University. Thank you so much. And President Burnim, I wish for you the very best in your retirement. And I hope that you will leave a number nearby, so when I have a moment, we can just touch base from time to time.

To the students, faculty, staff and administrators, alumni and friends of the university, from this point forward, I will apply my skills and abilities to build on the legacy and the rich history of Bowie State University as the first Historically Black Institution of higher learning in the state of Maryland.

For any new leader, there are always, I’m sure, the usual questions you have out there. Questions about: What do you have to offer to us to make a difference?

How will you advance the mission of the institution?

And what’s your vision?

Well, today, I hope to share a little bit with you, but again, there’s a lot more to come in the days ahead. What I can tell you is that each day, I will be part of this team—striving to have a positive impact on the campus and our community. And I will work tirelessly to advance the mission of Bowie State University and to ensure that our students have every opportunity to succeed.

What I bring to the position, as you heard earlier from the Chancellor, is a diverse set of experiences and skills, having held leadership positions at four different universities—both public and private. And you’ve heard a little bit already about my credentials.

However, let me just say, I need to back up a little bit for you and start from the beginning: “West Philadelphia, born and raised.” I’m not going to ask you to sing the song, but I know you know the song. I’m a product of public schools. I graduated from a public high school, spent one year at Lincoln University – give it up for Lincoln! – I then did transfer to Temple University to dual major in what else, but dance and psychology? That’s a story for another time. We’ll talk about that. I went on to get my master’s degree in psychological services in education from the University of Pennsylvania, and then I went back to Temple for my doctoral degree in counseling psychology.

I began my career at the University of Pennsylvania. I was there for 10 years before going all the way across the street to Drexel University. I was there for another 10 years before going on the other side of Penn to the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, known as the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, the first college of pharmacy and science in the country. And then I went on to Millersville University because I ran out of all the west Philadelphia schools, so I had to keep going further west to Lancaster County out in Pennsylvania.

I am the proud mother of three and a proud grandmother of three.

But again, what you most need to know is that I am passionate about ensuring student success. I’ve built my career around ensuring that students have what they need to succeed and making sure that those coming behind me have the kinds of opportunities I was afforded. I’m passionate about public education and making sure that access and affordability to quality higher education remains part of the fabric of our communities.

As the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, once said: “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and the world better than you found it.” And I truly take that to heart. But as we all know, no one does anything on their own. And so I look forward to working with the Board of Regents, Chancellor Caret, the partners and friends of the university to strategically advance public higher education for the public good in the state of Maryland.

I see a very bright future ahead for Bowie State University because we are building on strength—strength and excellence in our academic programs, our history, our outstanding faculty, students, alumni and the community; but it’s going to take each and every one of us working as a team together, doing what we can to make us stronger together. And I want you to know that I fully embrace shared governance for our future success—that all-important bedrock of higher education and the work that lies ahead for us as a campus community.

For those of you who may have read recently Thomas Friedman’s new book, “Thank You for Being Late.” Anyone in the audience reading that? It’s a great read. It’s “An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.” While not specifically talking about shared governance, Thomas Friedman spoke to the concept when discussing organizations and how effective organizations function. What he said is: “If you want to solve a big problem, you need to go from taking credit, to sharing credit, to multiplying credit. The systems that all work, they multiply credit. Multiplying credit is just another way of making everyone feel a part of the system,” feeling a part of that ownership in that system. “And the byproduct,” as he goes on to say, “is resilience and propulsion.”

Over the course of the next few months, I will be meeting with groups across the campus to discuss shared governance and listening – listening to your ideas and your thoughts about how we can work together to achieve the mission and propel us forward. And I’m going to listen to how you think we together can remain resilient in the face of these changing times. We have much to do on behalf of our students, and they deserve it. But we need to work together.

I’m looking to the future. And the future, again, I see as bright. As I look around this campus, there are so many examples of excellence. There’s outstanding and innovative research, teaching and scholarly activities that demonstrate excellence in education. Such as Dr. Hoda El-Sayed, professor in the Department of Computer Science who was recognized recently by the Board of Regents and received an award for excellence in innovation after having served as a principal investigator on a Department of Defense grant to acquire a Cray supercomputer. And then, there’s Dr. Kimetta Hairston, professor of the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development who was recognized with an award for her teaching excellence. And then we have the EI2 program for research that’s underway and looking at how we bridge the classrooms into the workplace and the community. And there are countless examples among the faculty across this campus.

And then, among the students, I haven’t gotten to know some of these stories firsthand. I’ve been researching and reading and hearing so many wonderful things about what the students are doing. Such as E-Jay Gonzales who studied in the visual communication and digital media arts program and then went on to work with the WNBA Atlanta Dream. And Cierra Campbell, who was a major in communication with a concentration in broadcast journalism who aspired to go into film production and was balancing all of those responsibilities in her major while also serving as an ROTC cadet. And then, most recently, among the many calls and well-wishes I received, I heard from a very special young lady, a woman who will be graduating on May 23. Donna Barriteau, who is one of the individuals who will be graduating with her doctoral degree on May 23. We can give her a round of applause! She called me and was so excited to tell me about her study, which by coincidence is on the lived experiences of women of color at historically black colleges and universities. How’s that? It was so amazing to hear her enthusiasm, and when she invited me to attend her luncheon celebration, there’s no way I could have said no. And so, I’m looking forward to it, Donna, if you’re out here today. I’m looking forward to that luncheon and having a great celebration with you as you celebrate your doctoral degree. Her thirst for excellence and knowledge is truly amazing and as she described that journey, I have to imagine that I need to multiply that around here, in terms of the journey that our students are on and that we need to support as they go about seeking their aspirations. As there are signs of excellence as a look around the campus and hear about our Bulldogs. Wow! The athletic program is amazing to have achieved 20 CIAA championships since 1989. That deserves a round applause! And if anyone in here is on the bowling team, you’re going to be among one of the first groups I get to meet because I’ve heard so much about you and about your seven titles since 2005. That deserves a round of applause!

But you know, it’s not just on the courts and the fields and in the classrooms and the labs that I get that sense of spirit and pride at Bowie State University. It is truly evident as you just drive around the campus, as my husband and I did just about two weeks ago. We just decided to take a long drive down from Lancaster. It wasn’t that long actually – a little over two hours. We got down here. It was a nice day. The sun was out, and we just decided to just get to know the area, to get to know the campus more. And no one was expecting us, so we were just driving around and as we drove around the campus a few individuals from the facilities staff recognizes us. I saw a double take. But they greeted me so warmly. The waves were going. It was great! Thank you, guys. Thank you, facilities staff. That was wonderful! You were the first group I saw as we came onto the campus, and I really enjoyed those warm waves. But then, as we drove around the campus, we encountered students who were cleaning up the campus. They had trash bags in hand, and it was a Sunday morning. I won’t ask what happened that brought about all the trash. That’s a story for another time too. I will leave it at that.

But there are just so many signs of excellence around here where people take pride. Individuals – the faculty, staff and students – take pride in what you’re doing. And that’s what I want to be a part of.

And when I scan this region and see companies and businesses that are looking to universities to ensure a talented workforce, I see opportunity for partnerships and collaboration toward ensuring economic vitality for this region, while also advancing our educational mission.

There’s great opportunity to grow the endowment — building on the success of the $15 million campaign. How wonderful to have surpassed the $15 million fundraising goal! That truly deserves a round of applause! And as an advancement person, I have to set the next line, and anyone in fundraising knows, we can’t stop there. We’ve got to keep that momentum going because there is still need among our students. There is still need to have the resources that we need to continue the excellence that is here.

And as president, I will advocate for supports necessary for Bowie State University to operate. There is opportunity to garner and advocate for the resources needed to support the academic mission, promote the success and history of the university, and to support the development and growth of distinctive and niche academic programs. With the Board of Regents, in concert with the Chancellor, and a focused and strong leadership team, I am optimistic that Bowie State University will continue to demonstrate the value for supporting public higher education.

But, as competition for students intensifies, I still am very, very optimistic when I look at the increased enrollment of the first-year students for Bowie State. I’m optimistic that we will continue to grow the enrollment, but let’s make sure we don’t take our eye off the goal. And the goal isn’t just to enroll students here. The goal is to get students through, to retain them and to graduate them.

Today, higher education is facing many shifts, and I think we all know that. You can pick up the paper and read about all that’s happening with the landscape that we’re in for higher education: the global economy, demographics, funding of public higher education and exponential advances to technology. There are changes and challenges at every turn. And this can threaten the very core of our universities. To move forward in this ever-changing landscape, what we need to do is again come together to transform, innovate and reinvent how we approach higher education.

I am not one who believes in serendipity. I believe that we are here today because of a common purpose. We are here at this moment to ensure the future of this amazing university that has provided outstanding quality education for more than 150 years. And we’re here to make sure that it continues and that every student who desires to pursue higher education will have access to a quality educational experience—both today and for tomorrow.

And, as we all know, when our students succeed, our communities are going to succeed. There is an ancient Greek philosopher by the name of Plutarch who once said: “It is indeed a desirable thing to be well descended, but glory belongs to our ancestors.”

As we stand here to celebrate what will be, I ask that you take a moment —just take a moment out today and right now – to reflect and remember how we got here. For the wise words spoken those many centuries ago give meaning to today’s events and for our future. It is because of those who have gone before us that we are able to stand here today in this beautiful building on this beautiful campus among some of the most outstanding students, faculty and dedicated staff. And so, we owe much to the leaders of Bowie State University. Leaders such as Principal Goodloe, the first to lead this institution onto this site. And President Henry, who shepherded the evolution from a small teacher training school to a liberal arts college. And then more recently leaders like presidents Myers, Lyons, Lowe, and President Burnim. You have worked tirelessly to find a way to ensure opportunity for many generations of students.

And I have to imagine as those leaders traversed the landscape of higher ed that they were going through that they had their moments when they thought there was no way – no way to move forward through the ups and downs of social, political and economic change and challenges that were happening in this country. But you know, they found a way to sustain the viability of this very special university.

And so we owe it to them and to the many faculty and staff who have gone on before us, that have travelled this campus, a deep devotion and gratitude. And we owe it to them to make sure that we do everything we can to guarantee that future generations will have the same access to quality education for the next 150 years.

As I travel across campus in the days and months to come, I will be listening to you. I will be talking with you, and I want to hear your voices. I truly want to hear you and your opinions, your ideas and thoughts. I would love to stand here and say, “I have all the answers.” But I’m looking to you to be part of the team with me as we look to the future.

My vision for Bowie State University is to build on strength and excellence together as a community of learners:

  • To preserve the lasting legacy of Bowie State University as the first historically black university in the state of Maryland,
  • To continue to build academic excellence,
  • To create curricular and co-curricular opportunities supportive and engaging of 21st generation of learners, and
  • To encourage and support the diversity of learners enrolled at Bowie State University.

I’m looking forward:

  • To creating new partnerships in our local and global communities,
  • To developing new and distinctive and niche programs that uniquely define Bowie State University,
  • To demonstrating fiscally sound models, metrics and accountability measures, so that we can communicate to our internal audience and external stakeholders in public higher education the value that we bring to our communities.
  • And then finally, to promote the value of the quality educational experience provided by Bowie State University faculty, staff and administrators.

And so, this is where we begin, Bowie State. I ask that you join me, and let’s race forward to the future because I do see a bright future. And notice, I didn’t say, “Let’s walk to the future.” I said that intentionally. Let’s race to the future because it is bright. There are a great many opportunities that lie ahead. And I don’t believe in just sauntering along. I want to race forward because I see a bright future ahead for us all.

But I’m looking forward to being a part of the team and one community, focused on the goal of student success and our commitment to public education – public education for the public good.

And I want to thank you again for welcoming this Philly girl to Bowie State University. And I’m looking forward to being your next president!