By Amber Kennedy

Over the course of a six-day tour to seven cities across Virginia, President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., and First Lady Marisela Rosas Hemphill, Ph.D., met with more than 1,000 members of Monarch Nation to outline a forward-focused vision for Old Dominion University.

From city to city, ODU alumni, students and friends gathered to share their excitement for the future of ODU, along with their reflections of how the University has impacted their lives.

At every stop, alumni repeatedly used one phrase to describe what President Hemphill brings: "A new energy."

In Vienna, Dinh Peter Nguyen '95 said that, as a Vietnamese immigrant and person of color, he felt proud his alma mater had selected Hemphill, the first African American president of the University. "His résumé gives me goosebumps," he said. "I'm honored to be a Monarch just by the fact they chose him to lead us."

In Virginia Beach, ODU Board of Visitors Rector Bruce Bradley '78 recounted how President Hemphill stood out from the pack of 92 applicants from across the country. "Not only did he come with a high level of experience, but his energy level and charisma blew us away," he said.

When Hemphill was selected, the board vote was unanimous.

At each stop, President Hemphill outlined guiding principles for the University: excellence, accountability, transparency and being student-centered in all ways. He invited members of Monarch Nation to participate in focus groups to relaunch the strategic planning process, noting the need for input from business, military and state leaders to ensure the University is preparing students for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

President Hemphill charged the audience in every city with a mission: act as ambassadors for the University by sharing their ODU story. He shared a new mantra: "One message, many voices."

That one message, he said, was how ODU has the capacity to change lives. "You can be anything you want to be with an ODU education," he told the audience in Virginia Beach. "An ODU education will open doors and provide significant opportunities. We need to help our students understand how it will be transformative."

In each city, alumni shared how that story has been true for them. In Alexandria, Varsha Ravi '19 said she felt called to give back to the alma mater that gave her so much. In 2016, Ravi was recruited by Ajay Gupta, director of computer resources in the Department of Computer Science, to complete research. "It was the first hands-on project I had the opportunity to do," she said, adding similar opportunities did not exist in her undergraduate program in her native India.

Ravi went on to earn her master's degree, win the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for computer science in April 2019 and work as a software developer for Amazon Web Services. "ODU changed my life," she said. "ODU has really helped me be where I am today, so it's something I want to give back."

For those seeking ways to give back to the University, President Hemphill advised ODU needed their "time, talent and treasure." Sometimes they may be able to give more of one than the others, he said, but ODU welcomes all three.

Several attendees shared how ODU Online enabled them to achieve their educational goals while accommodating their responsibilities. Some couples, including Kim and Keith Curtis of Virginia Beach, met and fell in love at ODU. For some families, ODU had become a tradition, with three generations, cousins, siblings, nieces and nephews proudly becoming Monarchs over the decades.

The tour brought Monarchs together to reconnect and share how ODU has shaped their lives. When asked why the Monarch Nation Tour was an important first step, President Hemphill said, "It allows faculty, staff and administrators to get out and meet you. You are the individuals who made the University into what it is today."

"This has been like a family reunion," Don Stansberry, vice president for Student Engagement & Enrollment Services (SEES), said in Richmond. "And now, we have added President Hemphill to our family."

In each city, exemplary ODU alums were recognized with a new honor, the Monarch Spirit Award, recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to the University. Each recipient displayed an outstanding record of commitment through continued interest and support. The recipients of the 2021 Monarch Spirit Awards are:

  • Donna D. Fisher '74 and Daniel Fisher '72: Donna earned a B.S. in business administration and an MBA from Old Dominion University's Strome College of Business, and Daniel earned a B.S. in business administration. The Fishers have been active members of their alma mater and have been giving to the Dominion Fund program for 24 years.
  • James S. Cheng '82: James received a B.S. from Old Dominion University, an MBA from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from Georgetown University. He has served on the Old Dominion Education Foundation Board since 1999 and has supported the Dominion Fund program for 25 years.
  • Joe E. Carter Jr. '86: Joe received a B.S.B.A. from Old Dominion University. He has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors in several roles, including as treasurer and as a member of the Finance Committee. He holds season tickets for football and basketball, is a member of the NOVA/DC Chapter of the ODU Alumni Association and received the Alumni Association Service Award in 2015. Carter has been giving to the Dominion Fund for 19 years.
  • Timothy J. O'Donohue '76: Timothy received a B.A. in political science from the College of Arts and Letters at Old Dominion University. He serves as president of the NOVA/DC Alumni Chapter and is a football season ticket holder. As alumni chapter president, O'Donohue has led countless engagement opportunities for alumni in the Northern Virginia and D.C. area, and has supported the Dominion Fund program for 33 years.
  • Charles F. Catlett III '70: Charles earned a B.S. in business administration from the College of Business at Old Dominion University. He previously served on the Educational Foundation Board for 20 years and was chairman from 2009-2011. He served on the Alumni Association Board from 1999-2002, and was the recipient of the Regional Service Award. Catlett has an outstanding record of support and has given to the Dominion Fund for 31 years.
  • Kim Curtis '82: Kim earned a B.S. from Old Dominion University. She has been a member of the Old Dominion Education Foundation Board since 2004 and previously served as vice chair. She is a founding and current member of the ODU Real Estate Advisory Board (now CREED) and a founding member of ODU's Women's Initiative Network (WIN). With her husband, Keith Curtis '83, she has been a co-recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Service Award. She has supported the Dominion Fund program for 35 years.
  • Barry C. Bishop '74: Barry graduated from ODU with a B.A. in political science. He is a member of the Darden College of Education Advisory Board and a former member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. He has supported the Dominion Fund for 28 years.

See videos and pictures from the Monarch Nation Tour here.

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