By David Simpson

As an Old Dominion University undergraduate a couple of decades back, Krista Harrell embodied “the Monarch experience.”

Zeta Tau Alpha. Student Senate. Honor Council. Homecoming princess. Her list of involvements goes on.

Now this three-time graduate of ODU has returned to the campus where it all started. In December, Harrell became associate vice president for alumni relations. She previously was assistant vice president for student affairs and Title IX coordinator at the University of South Alabama.

“It’s almost overwhelming to come back to a place that has such priceless memories,” she said.

In her new position she leads the way in cultivating an alumni community of more than 167,000 graduates around the world.  

Harrell earned a bachelor's degree in counseling in 2001, an M.S.Ed. with an emphasis in higher education administration in 2003 and a Ph.D. in higher education administration in 2012. 

She recently took time to answer a few questions.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born on Long Island in New York, in Huntington, and we moved to Newport News when I was 5. So, I grew up in Newport News and I went to school there until I came here.

What led you to your field?

I was a counseling undergrad, and that's what I was studying all the way to my senior year. I was going to be an addictions counselor, and my professor one night said, “Are you sure you'd be able to do this?” And I thought, “What do you mean, man? It's the fall before I’m supposed to graduate!” And he said, “Do you think you're going to be able to take this home with you? You know, 90 or 95 percent of people relapse. Are you not going to take that personally?” In that moment I thought, “No, that's not going to be possible at all.” And so, at the same time, Dr. Dennis Gregory was restarting the higher education program. They were doing some recruiting, and they were wanting some really involved undergraduate students to consider entering the program to help rebuild. And Dr. Don Stansberry said, “You know, you can do this for a career.” Honestly, I never considered it before, but I had been extremely involved since I was an undergrad. So it made sense to say, “OK, I can help other students do this.” And so I stayed for my master’s and was a graduate assistant in the Student Affairs office for the next two years. That's kind of what got me here.

What is your vision of alumni engagement?

I think it's for everybody to be able to find their place. We want to let everybody feel like they have an opportunity to continue leaving a legacy here and that Old Dominion is beyond just your collegiate experience, whether that's as an undergraduate, graduate or professional student. It continues on. And the institution needs our alumni to be engaged with their time, their talent, their tithing and, if they want, their philanthropy, because it's integral to the success of our current students, our current initiatives, our current faculty and staff, and our future.

Is there an effort under way that you’d like to talk about?

One of our main focus areas is going to be increasing alumni chapter development. There's some metrics behind how we start those. But if we feel like we have a good contingent of folks in an area, we really want to start gathering them. We're looking at Raleigh, Atlanta. Those areas are among a few that are big for us. We're looking at starting a chapter in the Miami area because we've got a number of people that want to help and they’re active and want to be involved. The other piece for us is looking at how we engage current students and helping them understand what it means to be an alumnus and helping them see the lifetime of an alumnus right from the time that they're a prospective student, all the way through their graduation, connecting them as a future alumnus and then a young alumnus. We are looking at how we continuously engage and recognize our alumni. We certainly want to continue to enhance that and make people feel that they're part of ODU.

As a three-time ODU alumna, what makes you proud to be a Monarch?

Honestly, it's that every opportunity that I've had to be back in this position is because of what ODU afforded me each time that I was here before. I bleed blue and silver – it's the way I felt from the moment I got engaged and involved, during my freshman year. This is my home. It's given me the life that I have. Looking around and seeing the progression since I walked on campus in 1996 is just astounding. It's not the same place that I came to, but I'm proud of that place, too. And I'm honored to be connected to all the people that came before, to lay the groundwork for all the people that are coming after us, because we all reflect each other. Because wherever you go, an ODU alum is an ODU alum, right? And so if somebody's in Chicago or Charleston or down the street, there is a thing that connects us. And for me – I'm getting emotional, but it's true – you can be anybody and you can come to ODU, and the whole trajectory of your life can change from here.