Wampler will lead NCI

January 4, 2012

By GINNY WRAY AND PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writers

State Sen. William Wampler envisions the New College Institute as a “pipeline” that will enable area students to pursue higher education.

At the same time, the institute will play a key role in revitalizing the economy of Henry County and Martinsville, he said.

At NCI, Wampler said he will work to “create a pipeline to build capacity to bring students into higher education” and match opportunities for students with jobs in the community.

Wampler, of Bristol, on Tuesday was unanimously appointed by its board the new executive director of NCI, effective Jan. 11.

That will follow his retirement from the state Senate, where he has served for 24 years. A Republican, Wampler said he did not seek re-election in November, saying he was looking for new challenges. The New College, he added, is “the right thing at the right time” for him.

He will be the second executive director of the institute, succeeding Barry Dorsey, who retired Jan. 1.

Wampler called Dorsey “the perfect person” to have led NCI for its first five years. “I hope the community recognizes that he did a great job” and built a strong foundation at the institute.

Harvest Foundation President Allyson Rothrock first suggested Wampler for the post, and NCI Board Chairman Rob Spilman approached him to determine if he was interested “in employing his considerable skills and track record to further the fortunes of the New College and our community. Despite numerous other opportunities currently before him, Sen. Wampler has agreed to be considered by the NCI board to become the new executive director of this institution,” Spilman said during Tuesday’s NCI board meeting. “I personally believe that this is a potentially outstanding development that would provide us with the skill set that we need to move forward ... as two of you (board members) have said — ‘a win-win.’”

Wampler said he had discussed the position with Gov. Bob McDonnell, who “pledged his full support.” Wampler has served on the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education since 2010.

In an NCI news release, McDonnell stated: “Sen. Wampler has spent his 24 years of public service strengthening opportunities in higher education throughout Virginia while being a strong partner in creating jobs. He is uniquely qualified to move NCI to the next level in helping revitalize Martinsville and Henry County. He has my full support and that of my administration. I wish him much success.”

Several board members praised Wampler and welcomed he and his wife, Mary, to NCI and to the Martinsville area, where they will be moving.

Board Vice Chairman Elizabeth Haskell said she was “thrilled” that Wampler is joining the institute, and Wampler noted that when she was secretary of the Department of Natural Resources under then-Gov. Douglas Wilder, Haskell helped implement a common-sense streamlining of the state government and her department’s permitting process.

He also praised outgoing Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, calling him a “solid advocate” and “fierce fighter.” Wampler recalled a budget conferees’ session at 2 a.m. one year when someone suggested eliminating funds for NCI.

“Do you want to tell Roscoe Reynolds that,” someone else asked, and the funds remained in the budget, Wampler said.

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said he has served with Wampler on the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. Marshall called Wampler’s appointment “exciting, a turning point. I would never have thought it would happen.”

Spilman is president and chief executive officer of Bassett Furniture Industries, and Wampler is on its board of directors. Spilman said Wampler is “highly respected” and was involved in keeping NCI afloat in the General Assembly.

Spilman praised Wampler’s accomplishments, specifically citing his involvement with higher education and economic development.

“William isn’t new to economic challenges. He has spent his adult life working to improve Southwest Virginia, and it is a better place because of him. His fingerprints are all over new businesses like Northrop Grumman and CGI, and he has connected them with the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center so that the work force is prepared for sustainable jobs.

“I think Sen. Wampler is going to re-energize this area in a lot of ways. He will not only take NCI to the next level, he will further the interests of the entire community. NCI is the game-changer for this region, and William’s vision, experience and energy is going to win the game for us,” Spilman added.

Wampler told the board that he has a lot to learn and added that he intends to listen to others who will help “steer me on where NCI has been and where it will go.”

That includes NCI Interim Executive Director Leanna Blevins, who also is the institute’s associate director and chief academic officer. Wampler said he is not sure he would have taken the position if Blevins was not continuing there.

Rothrock said in an interview that Blevins is talented on the academic side, while Wampler is a strategic thinker and a “convener” of people. He also has a passion for education, health and community revitalization, Rothrock said.

“He and Leanna will be a formidable team,” she said. “I could not be happier. It’s a very exciting time for all of us.”

Wampler never has been a college executive director or president before. But Wampler said his 21-year career in the military taught him leadership and management skills that he will bring to the post. He also said he learned to surround himself with the “best and the brightest” staff, provide “solid commanders intent and let them implement” the goals.

He has managed more people than are on staff at NCI, knows how to reach a consensus within an institution, and has worked with a $70 billion budget in the General Assembly, he said.

He also brings experience in two areas that he thinks are especially similar to Henry County and Martinsville.

First, he was on the board of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center since its inception in 1991.

According to its website, the center has partnerships with 10 colleges and universities through which it provides undergraduate and graduate degree programs and professional development courses primarily for adult learners. The center also promotes regional economic development through its conference facility, business support services and technology, the site states.

That is similar to NCI, which offers the last two years of bachelor’s degree programs and master’s degree programs through several colleges and universities in the state. It now is forging partnership with three state universities — Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University and the Radford University — to offer programs here.

Second, Wampler said he will become the immediate past chairman of Heartwood when he leaves the Senate. Heartwood, he explained, is a regional artisan center that was devised by Wampler and former Gov. Mark Warner to promote Southwest Virginia crafts, music, food and local culture.

“When I look at the assets of Martinsville-Henry County, all the elements are there (for similar efforts). It’s visible, you can feel the presence” of the artisan community, Wampler said, adding that he hopes to help take that to the “next level.”

None of those things could have been done without the expansion of broadband in Southwest Virginia, he said. Wampler has been a leader on that expansion in rural areas, according to NCI’s release, and he and was on the Governor’s Commission on Information Technology from 1998 to 2002.

Nor could Northrup Grumman or CGI, which provides information technology services, have come to that region without broadband, he said. They also would not have come without higher education, which provides training and skilled workers for such companies.

Wampler said he served on then-Gov. Tim Kaine’s committee that helped recruit Rolls Royce to Virginia. What convinced it to locate in the state was the presence of the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech and their engineering schools, Wampler said.

NCI and economic development go “hand in hand,” Wampler said. He added that he would like all sectors of local education to be involved when the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. is recruiting a prospect.

Among leaders in Richmond, NCI is closely aligned with efforts to revitalize the region’s economy, Wampler said.

He added that it is too soon to tell whether he favors NCI becoming a branch of an existing state university. That idea was shelved earlier this year in favor of forming the partnerships, but NCI officials have said it remains a goal.

Wampler said he has good relationships with most other college presidents in the state, and he expects that he and Blevins will travel around Virginia to other institutions to assess their financial capacities and other factors.

“It has to be a win-win,” he said. “It can’t be force fed.”

With a new executive director coming on board, “it’s a good time to reassess where NCI has been and where it will go in the future,” Blevins added.


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