William Wampler picked to lead New College Institute

January 4, 2012

Political powerhouse William Wampler, a Bristol Republican who opted not to seek re-election this year to the Virginia Senate, will soon be the executive director of the Martinsville-based New College Institute.

Wampler's new role begins Jan. 11.

His selection by the school's board of directors elicited expressions of support Tuesday from politicians, the institute's chief academic officer, the president of the Harvest Foundation and others.

"I think he is going to take NCI to the next level," said Leanna Blevins, chief academic officer and associate director who has served briefly as interim director. "He's passionate, intelligent, a political powerhouse."

Allyson Rothrock is president of the Harvest Foundation, a key contributor to the institute. She said Wampler brings standing in the business community and a great ability to help articulate the vision for NCI's future.

The New College Institute is a publicly funded educational institution that partners with accredited public and private colleges and universities to offer students opportunities to complete bachelor's degrees as transfers and master's degrees in several academic areas. It also offers teacher endorsement programs and teacher recertification courses.

Partner universities have included, among others, Radford, Averett, Longwood, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and Norfolk State. In 2011, the institute aligned more closely with three schools - Virginia State, Virginia Commonwealth and Radford.

The institute traces its roots to 2006, an act of the General Assembly, an initial appropriation of $2.5 million for the 2006-08 biennium and a matching grant from the Martinsville-based Harvest Foundation.

To date, the Harvest Foundation has contributed a total of $7.4 million to the New College Institute, Rothrock said.

The institute has 17 employees, which includes part- and full-time workers. Fall semester enrollment was about 260 students.

Blevins said as of May 2011 the school had graduated about 243 students with either bachelor's or master's degrees.

Southside Virginia's painful transition from an economy based primarily on traditional manufacturing industries to a more diverse economy continues. That transition and a need for better access to four-year higher education helped launch the institute.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a news release that Wampler "is an excellent selection for NCI." He said the institute "already is playing a key role in refocusing the economy of Martinsville, Henry County and the Southside Virginia region, and William Wampler will bring the energy, experience and statewide contacts to take it to the next level."

Wampler, a consultant and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, has served on the Senate Finance Committee since 1991 and the education subcommittee since 1996. He also has served on the executive committee of the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which seeks to support economic development in Southside and Southwest Virginia.

In a news release, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Wampler is uniquely qualified to support the institute's role in the revitalization of Martinsville and Henry County.

"He has my full support and that of my administration," McDonnell said.

Rob Spilman is chairman of the board for the New College Institute.

He said he first approached Wampler in October with the idea of becoming the new executive director and that those talks got serious in early December. He said Wampler helped the institute get off the ground originally, is someone who "understands politics in the commonwealth" and is a consensus builder.

He said Wampler's high energy could help galvanize the community as the region continues its economic transition.

The annual salary for the executive director position is about $170,000, Spilman said.

Wampler and his wife plan to live in the Martinsville-Henry County area. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


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