'Labor of love'

December 15, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The success of the New College Institute (NCI) largely is attributable to one man — Executive Director Barry Dorsey, community leaders agree.

“He’s got to be the most photographed man in Martinsville,” said NCI board Chairman Rob Spilman, because Dorsey always seems to be at local civic events and club meetings, promoting the institute and seeking support for it.

Spilman spoke Wednesday night during a reception in honor of Dorsey at the former Henry County courthouse, which is situated between buildings uptown that house NCI classrooms and administrative offices.

Spilman described Dorsey, who has led NCI since it opened five years ago and is retiring effective Jan. 1, as a “tireless promoter” and “workaholic.”

“We all owe him a million ‘thank yous’ for his tenacity and for pushing us faster than we ever thought we could go,” said Allyson Rothrock, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, which matches state funds for NCI.

Spilman noted that NCI opened a year ahead of schedule in 2006, largely due to Dorsey’s determination.

Dorsey, 69, said his work has been “a labor of love.” Yet he refused to take the ultimate responsibility for NCI’s success. Instead, he credited the efforts of many area residents who helped push the state to establish the institute.

“This is not a celebration for me,” he declared. “This is a celebration of the community support that has made NCI possible.”

That support has made “all the difference,” Dorsey said twice. It has been “total community support. For that, I’m very, very grateful.”

He encouraged about 50 people who attended the reception to “continue the good work.”

Funded by the state and Harvest, NCI provides local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees provided by various universities across the state. Bachelor’s degree students take their first- and second-year courses elsewhere, such as a community college, before transferring into programs at the institute.

Only about 11 percent of adults in Southside — the only region of Virginia without a public university — have earned degrees, statistics show. That is the lowest percentage in the state.

NCI’s goal has been to raise that percentage. So far, more than 400 people have attended the institute, and 244 have earned degrees.

According to Dorsey, NCI has been more successful in its first five years than anyone who helped launch it ever imagined.

Support for NCI among community residents is “virtually unanimous,” said Spilman, president and CEO of Bassett Furniture Industries.

Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia State and Radford universities will become responsible for all degree programs at NCI next year. Dorsey said he thinks the institute will evolve into a branch of one of those universities within two years.

“We’ve reached the first plateau,” he said. “It is up to ... all of you” to reach the second.

“We together have a big job to do but we’ll get it done,” Rothrock predicted.

Dorsey’s successor has not yet been named. Leanna Blevins, NCI’s associate director and chief academic officer, has been appointed interim director.

Basically, Blevins will “keep the trains running on time” until a new station master is hired, Spilman said.

Whoever replaces Dorsey will have “some very big shoes to fill,” he added.

Marshall Stowe, chairman of the New College Foundation, presented Dorsey with a mantel clock as a gift. The foundation raises private money to support NCI and its students, and Stowe noted that Dorsey favored establishing it.

Dorsey has been in higher education for more than 40 years. Before working for NCI, he was president of the University of Rio Grande in Ohio and deputy director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. He also was a faculty member or administrator at two universities.

From the moment he retires, he will continue to be busy.

Dorsey will be a consultant for the private Carlisle School — of which he is a board member — starting Jan. 1. When Head of School Simon Owen-Williams leaves in June for a new job in New York, Dorsey will take his place on a part-time basis until a permanent successor is named.

“Admittedly, I know little about K-12” education, Dorsey said, but he looks forward to the challenge of learning about it.

At Carlisle, three divisional chairmen will continue handling matters involving the curriculum. Dorsey said he will be responsible for managing the school, overseeing finances and helping with fundraising activities.

Dorsey, a North Carolina native, also plans to launch a locally based higher education consulting firm.

“I’m glad he’s going to stay” in the Martinsville area, said Stowe, who called Dorsey his friend.


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