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‘Where is My Office?’

‘Where is My Office?’
October 02
00:00 2014
(Above:Dr. Elwood Robinson (right) poses with his wife, Denise, and son, Devin, last week at WSSU.)

Incoming chancellor ready to get started at  WSSU

During his first public remarks on the campus that he will soon lead, Winston-Salem State Chancellor-in-waiting Dr. Elwood Robinson quoted one of the greats – Lebron James.

“I’m coming home,” Robinson said, echoing the NBA star’s declaration after he announced his return to his hometown team: the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A superstar in his own right – at least in educational circles – Robinson will leave his post as provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs at Cambridge (Mass.) College to return to North Carolina, where he was born, raised and spent the bulk of his career. On Jan. 1, the 58 year-old will succeed Dr. Donald Reaves, who is retiring after eight years as WSSU’s chancellor.

The UNC Board of Governors met at WSSU Friday to unanimously agree on Robinson’s hiring. UNC President Tom Ross, who recommended Robinson after a search committee dwindled a list of 60 applicants down to just three, said Robinson is bringing the right skill-set to keep WSSU moving along the trajectory Reaves started.

“He brings to the job a real passion for higher education and three decades of progressive leadership experience as a faculty mentor, department chair, dean and provost.  Much of that experience was gained at North Carolina Central University, his alma mater.  He is a proven leader who promotes innovation, collaboration and an unwavering commitment to academic excellence and student success,” Ross said.

Robinson is quite familiar with WSSU’s proud history, and not just because he earned his undergraduate degree at NCCU and spent more than two decades there as a professor and administrator.

“I knew it when I was growing up; I knew it in Sampson County – we knew it,” he said of the WSSU’s legacy, which includes the distinction of being the nation’s first black college to offer elementary education degrees.

He presented no sweeping vision or agenda. He said that will come later after discussions with students, faculty and others in the community.

“I will listen to you,” Robinson vowed.

He promised alumni that the school will be good stewards of the contributions that he will be asking them to give. His initial goal is to raise $5,000 a day.

Robinson said that he and his wife Denise, a former grade school teacher, will develop filial relationships with WSSU students, similar to the ones they have with their own kids, NCCU student Devin and Chanita Coulter, an A&T Aggie who teaches in Charleston, S.C.

“I also have a responsibility to push you … to help you dream big dreams,” he said to students.

Robinson made it clear that he expects faculty and staff to do all they can to help students realize those big dreams.

“There is never an excuse for poor customer service,” he said pointedly. “We will ask for more … We will change how we operate this institution.”

That charge drew a bit of applause from the smattering of students inside the meeting room. While Student Body President Olivia Sedwick acknowledged that all universities face some hiccups in admissions,  financial aid and other services, she said many WSSU students have been let down by the offices that handle such services.

“I think it is important that he focuses on efficiency and effectiveness, so we can attract and not deter the right students,” she said.

The 20-member search committee established in April to find Reaves’ replacement included Sedwick. She was given the chance to chat one-on-one with Robinson and the other two finalists earlier this month. She praised all the candidates but admitted that there was something special about Robinson.

“He was so down-to-Earth. I felt comfortable and open with him. He empathizes with students,” she said.

Ross hinted that Robinson’s psychology background may be behind his ability to connect with people.

He graduated magna cum laude from NCCU with a degree in psychology before earning a master’s (also in psychology) from Fisk University. Before earning his doctorate in clinical psychology from Penn State, Robinson completed an internship at Duke University Medical Center. He joined the NCCU faculty in 1984. By 1993, he was chair of the school’s Psychology Department. In 2006, he became the founding dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

For 11 years, he simultaneously served as director of the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC), a program that introduces students of color to the biomedical sciences industry. Of the 100 MARC scholars he mentored, 80 percent entered graduate school and 40 percent earned doctorates.

Robinson left NCCU in 2012 for the Cambridge College post. He said working the private school’s campus, which is situated between Harvard and MIT, made him more determined to do what he can to help historically black colleges continue and expand their important mission.

“I did not come here to retire. I did not come here to relax. I did not come here to survive; I came here to thrive,” said Robinson, a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. “I’m ready to get to work. Where is my office?”

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T. Kevin Walker

T. Kevin Walker

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