New VSU President speaks on plan for first 100 days at the university
By Janeal Downs
After representatives from the Virginia State University (VSU) board of visitors, sickness faculty, staff, students and community members formed a search committee to find the university’s next president, Dr. Makola Abdullah was chosen to become VSU’s 14th president. While being president is different from his previous positions, Abdullah is humbled but also determined to protect the legacy of the VSU alumni and students. “Trojan nation is a special place. The roots at Virginia State University run deep and I think that it’s one of those things you can’t know until you’re here,” Abdullah said. “I think that’s been one of the most exciting things is to see the depth in which people care and people love Virginia State University. That’s exciting.”
Abdullah was announced as the new president in December and officially started Feb. 1 2016. This was also the beginning of his 100-day plan. The five-piece plan begins with making sure VSU provides a transformative experience for young people. To Abdullah, VSU has always been about “taking young people from where they are and moving them toward a place of excellence.” The second piece is to strategically invest in the school’s academic program so that the university can meet goals for the state, nation and for the communities the students come from.
Thirdly, he wants to have faculty, staff, students, alumni and others collaborate to tell VSU’s story through social media, no matter how small or large. One example he gives is of a faculty member who encouraged a student to get their passport. “That opened up her mind to thinking about traveling abroad and next year she’ll be doing an internship in India; and it started from a faculty member encouraging her to get a passport,” Abdullah said. Thousands of other stories like this one are happening every day and he encourages faculty to share these types of moments through social media because they showcase the excellence that occurs at the university. Stories like these are what he thinks will encourage students and parents to be more apt to making VSU a college of choice.
The fourth part goes into one of the main reasons why he was attracted to the university, the land grant mission. As an 1890 Land Grant institution, VSU has been able to provide research, extension and education in the fields of agriculture and mechanical arts in military sciences. Initially the land grant mission was meant to provide education for young people who lived in rural areas. The fifth and last piece is for the school to embrace its role as an “opportunity university” in Virginia. The historical college has “been in the business for over 100 years providing quality and opportunities for students to go forward with excellence.” Abdullah wants to continue this legacy by spreading both his and the school’s message. “Once you become a part of the Trojan family…and you get a chance to hear the stories of alum, the stories of the students and how much they care about Virginia State, it brings you more joy.”
Currently he’s been making an effort to meet with alumni, the alumni association, faculty, staff, members of the community and students. He has already met with students and enjoys visiting the dining hall just to speak with them. Whether they have tough questions for him or simply want to talk with him about basketball, Abdullah encourages students to interact with him. One business student and Governor’s Fellow even showed him his entrepreneurship plan which he will present to the Governor’s Council in entrepreneurship. “I think a lot of us, the main reason we work in higher education is because it’s the fountain of youth because students have so much energy and they bring so much to the table,” Abdullah said. One thing he likes about HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) is that the administration, including him, are accessible for students.
Originally from the south side of Chicago, Abdullah had a “diverse educational experience”. He first attended a predominantly black K-8 school and then he attended Lake View Academy, an elite boarding school outside of Chicago, which was predominantly white. After graduating, Abdullah went on to attend the historically black college, Howard University. “I needed an HBCU to bring out the best in me,” Abdullah said. “I needed the professors at the institution who cared about me, to do what I did.” At Howard he was constantly inspired by his professors and when he left to attend Northwestern University in Illinois, after receiving his Masters he became the youngest person to receive a Ph.D. in engineering at the age of 24. If he had never attended Howard, he said this would have never happened.
After receiving his Ph.D., Abdullah went to work for a black-owned engineering firm for two years while teaching physics as an adjunct teacher at Chicago State University. “I always knew that I wanted to be in higher education so I knew that the work was a temporary stop but teaching adjunct really made me understand that it was something I had to do full time,” Abdullah said. He later accepted a job at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and after living in Florida for almost 20 years, he left for Virginia.
As someone who would describe themselves as very passionate about education and someone who cares about the opportunities education can bring to young people, Dr. Makola Abdullah describes higher education as powerful. “It’s powerful for me, it’s been powerful for my family and I’ve watched how education can transform lives,” Abdullah said. “So I’m very passionate about education.” While he has worked in the field for some time now, his next position is none other than serving as the 14th president of the historically black university, Virginia State University.
- Make sure VSU continues to provide a transformative experience for young people.
- Strategically invest in the school’s academic program so that the university can meet goals for the communities where the students come from, the state and nation.
- For faculty, staff, students, alumni and others collaborate to tell VSU’s story, mostly through social media no matter how small or large.
- To continue land grant mission which provides quality education to rural young people in the fields of agriculture and mechanical arts in military science.
- For the school to embrace its role as an “opportunity university” in Virginia.