President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., and First Lady Marisela Rosas Hemphill, Ph.D., started a weeklong Monarch Nation Tour on Aug. 9 at the Penthouse at Center in the Square in the heart of Roanoke.
On a rooftop overlooking the Star City with the shadows of the Blue Ridge in the distance, Old Dominion University alumni, students and friends gathered to meet President Hemphill, who was appointed to lead ODU in February. The event was the first in the Monarch Nation Tour that will make stops in Charlottesville, Vienna, Alexandria, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
In each city, the tour provides an opportunity for members of Monarch Nation to come together to celebrate the University's traditions and accomplishments, while learning about President Hemphill's vision for its future.
In the face of societal challenges, including a global pandemic, the skyrocketing cost of higher education and a student debt crisis, President Hemphill said that the University's vision cannot be about any one individual.
"For me, the vision is about togetherness," he said. "We have to truly lock arms and work together by being a forward-focused public research university that is truly committed to innovation and entrepreneurship."
He outlined some key principles that will guide the University's path forward: excellence, accountability, transparency and being student-centered in all ways. "We have to ensure that students are at the heart of every single decision that we make in ways that show we are thinking about their overall experience and how they connect with the institution," he said.
Part of the effort to chart a new course will include a relaunch of the strategic planning process, President Hemphill said, with plans to host focus groups across Virginia. Those meetings will include key stakeholders, such as students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as business, military and state leaders.
President Hemphill highlighted important areas where ODU can lead the world in cutting-edge research: maritime, coastal resilience, offshore wind energy and cybersecurity. He noted that ODU has beneficial partnerships with the Jefferson Lab, NASA Langley, NASA Wallops, Sentara, Eastern Virginia Medical School and Dominion Energy, but it is imperative to ensure ODU is meeting current and future needs.
"We have to be intentional about workforce development and drive the job market," he said. "We are contributing $2.6 billion annually of economic impact to Virginia. We need to look at how we grow that."
ODU will continue to focus on strategic enrollment growth with an eye to the continued evolution of online education, thinking about offering the "degrees of the future to meet the jobs of the future," he said. The University will also focus on student success, helping increase the six-year graduation rate and ensure student-athletes are positioned to be successful in the classroom and in competition.
Diversity, equity and inclusion will continue to be a priority at ODU, President Hemphill said, noting ODU students need to be able to engage with people from different backgrounds.
President Hemphill challenged alumni to "tell the ODU story" to grow the brand for prospective students. "We're going to continue to attract great students by making sure that we are communicating the benefits of an ODU education," he said. "We have to continually indicate the opportunities that they will have, from internship opportunities to the research and engagement directly with faculty."
The best ambassadors for that message, he said, are alumni.
His call to action resonated with Durmon Coates '99, who studied political science and is vice president of operations and sales for Bright Services, a staffing agency in Virginia and Tennessee. As a Navy veteran attending on the G.I. Bill, Coates found ODU uniquely positioned to support a student like him.
"I had to work the whole time I was there, but the professors were great and the school worked with me at every opportunity," he said. "I believe that Old Dominion was able to, in my situation, offer the flexible resources that I could use. I thought the program was really great."
In President Hemphill, he sees "a new energy."
"I'm excited about what the president has to offer, and what he's talking about," Coates said. "If ODU can continue to reach out, I see great things for the future."
During the event, Donna D. Fisher '74 and husband Daniel Fisher '72, were recognized with the Monarch Spirit Award, honoring individuals who have made significant contributions to ODU above and beyond those normally expected. Recipients of the award have presented themselves as dedicated and loyal alumni through continued interest in and support of the University, displaying an outstanding record of commitment.
Donna Fisher earned a B.S. in business administration and an MBA from the Strome College of Business. She spent 34 years with Norfolk Southern before her retirement eight years ago. As active members of their alma mater, the Fishers have given to the Dominion Fund program for 24 years.
She felt President Hemphill will be an excellent ninth president of the University. "He is a very good choice for ODU and will lead the University into new opportunities," she said, noting she was "very, very proud" of her alma mater.