VSU’s Interim President Ushers in A New Day, cialis High Above the Appomattox
By Janeal Downs
When she first arrived on Virginia State University’s campus in December, Dr. Pamela V. Hammond felt like a foreigner. With the university in the midst of financial struggles, declining enrollment, and an attack against the brand and image of the HBCU, Hammond was unsure if she had taken on too much. However, with previous positions as a provost, dean, and even a nursing supervisor, Hammond soon learned the issues at VSU were all ones she had dealt with in the past. She soon felt at home with her new family and has been working hard to lift the university’s morale. After four years, Dr. Keith T. Miller stepped down as president, and Hammond soon took on the role to help the struggling campus. Urban Views Weeklypublisher, Ervin Clarke, had the chance to sit down and speak with Hammond about some of the changes the school has experienced since her arrival. “I don’t want anyone to think that it’s been easy,” Hammond said. “There’s a lot of hard work left to do but I have a great team on this campus with the students, the faculty and the staff, and all of them are on my team.”
Three things Hammond has already begun to improve include financial stability, enrollment rates and the brand of the university as a whole. In meetings with students, faculty, alumni, board members and other constituents in the community, Hammond is adamant about telling the truth. This includes being transparent about the school’s financial status. As with any business, things may come up where more money is needed; however, Hammond said the budget has been balanced until June 30. She hopes to maintain the budget by extending the school-wide freeze she initiated over hiring, purchasing and traveling expenses. Not only has this freeze on spending helped, but since her arrival, donor support of VSU has increased. Hammond said since January 1, 2015, the school received up to $400,000 in support. Hammond said this increase of new donor support is proof that people think the school is doing the right thing and worth investing in.
Though Hammond is hopeful for the financial future of VSU, the school’s past struggles negatively impacted the school’s enrollment rate. Federal policy changes affected how much money schools had available and Hammond said these changes, specifically, hurt Historically Black Colleges and Universities. These policy changes include changes to Pell Grants which can no longer be used for summer school and qualifications for the Parent PLUS Loan. About 75 percent of the students qualify for Pell Grants. “If you qualify for Pell Grants the underlying message is low income, so when people are talking about how many people qualify for Pell grants, they’re really talking about how many the federal government considers as low income students,” Hammond said. With this lack of federal funding, fewer students began to apply to VSU.
VSU’s number of applicants has gone down in previous years with their latest high being close to 6,000 students.“People don’t know if they should invest in Virginia State, if they should help recruit for Virginia State, or if they should even enroll in Virginia State,” Hammond said. Despite this, Hammond proudly revealed this year the school received over 9,000 applicants for the upcoming academic year. Of the 9,000, 2,500 have already been accepted, and because they always anticipate a lower number of accepted students to attend the school, they are still looking at the applications. Their goal is to have an incoming class of about 1,000 students, at least 4,200 full time students, and a total class of close to 4,600 students.
Hammond not only wants to continue attracting students but also keep them in school. Whether students are homesick, unable to balance social life with their academic life, have problems with roommates, classmates or teachers, Hammond said there are a variety of reasons why students may not return to college. With a focus on getting first-year students comfortable, she plans to specifically focus on first-generation students. “I’m a first-generation student so I know some of the issues that first- generation students have,” Hammond said. “When you’re the first generation, you don’t really have parents that can help you through the maze. More than half of the student body are first-generation students, and Hammond has been working with the provost to make sure that in the upcoming semesters, “every freshman, first generation or not, gets assistance in getting enrolled, getting in their dorms and getting off on the right foot.” One way to assist the first-year students is by requiring all students with 60 hours or less to live on campus in order to develop a living learning community. Along with this requirement, the freshmen will be encouraged to meet with advisors and counselors specific to not only first year students, but also their respective majors.
For other ways to improve the school’s retention rate, Hammond said she always encourages students to call home and learn to balance their social life and academic life. “I had to learn as a freshman and a first generation that I could not just stay in my room and study all day because that is just not what college is about,” Hammond said, “You’ve got to learn how to balance that academic with that social, so I spend a lot of time talking with students about that balance.”
With a more hopeful financial status, enrollment rate and plan to better assist the future students, Hammond is positive about the future of VSU. “If you can stabilize your finances, stabilize your enrollment then your brand looks a little bit better,” Hammond said.
While many schools impact the community with medical and nursing programs, VSU is using an alternative method with their agricultural program which is currently researching food deserts. The study focuses on the lack of fresh food and grocery stores in urban communities. Students in the VSU College of Agriculture joined Virginia’s first lady Dorothy McAuliffe to help the community better understand what food deserts are. Over the summer, students at VSU helped grow crops, distribute the food in the community, and are helping teach people what and how to eat better. VSU’s nursing program also does work within the community with things such as health fairs. “That’s so important that the communities see us, because some of the people in the communities may not even think about going to college, may not think much of their health, may not ever want to go to the hospital, because so many people see it as a place to go to die,” Hammond said. “So our students are out there teaching the communities, and I just think that’s so exciting for us.”
While Hammond’s success with the school’s financial stability, enrollment rates and brand are doing well in the present, there are three things Hammond wishes for in the university’s future. Her goal for the future is that all graduating students be required to either have completed an internship, had an international experience, or a significant community service learning experience. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re Pell grant eligible, first generation, how much financial aid we had to go find for them, they deserve to have some real world experiences while they’re here so they’ll be ready for the work world.”
Many majors lend themselves to internships or international experiences in order to gain real world experience and Hammond wants students to put themselves out there and understand there is so much more than “our little community called the United States.” If they do not get an internship or travel abroad, Hammond wants to make sure students are out working in their community. “That’s on my wish list that one day I’ll be able to say to the freshman class that you will not graduate, you will not be able to leave here if you do not do one of these three things,” Hammond said. “That means you have to be different when you leave college than when you first came and I want my students prepared for the workforce.”
Hammond has big dreams for the students of Virginia State University and encourages them to come to her for motivation, advice or inquiries about the school. A few weeks ago, Hammond held a town hall meeting and answered uncensored questions from the students. With questions about the cafeteria, positions open at the school and financial aid and living situations, Hammond makes sure to stay involved with the students and stay open to their opinions. She often attends sporting events and was even honored by the band at a previous basketball game. A new idea for more connection with the students is “Take the President to Lunch” which students can do if they want to schedule time to talk with Hammond. With a meeting in the cafeteria, students will be able to meet with her one on one or invite a group so they can spend time with their president. Hammond said the one reason she is at VSU is for the students, otherwise she would have chosen the wrong profession. “The students know I’m out and about,” Hammond said. “They need to know that they can talk to me.”