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This is Our Time

by Regina Lightfoot -

Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, Norfolk State University’s newest President, can’t hide her excitement about the University and its future. It’s a future she envisions that we will reach as a community. It’s the prospect of this future, at this time and in this place that has connected with her and is connecting her to the University.

“Some of the new programs — cybersecurity, cyber psychology, all of the things happening in nanotechnology — really say that we’re forward facing and thinking about ourselves in the world,” Adams-Gaston said in an interview with HBCU Digest that aired in February shortly after her announcement as NSU’s seventh President.

She was also drawn to the University because of the commitment by members of the Presidential Search Committee and the Norfolk State University Board of Visitors to move Norfolk State to the next level while focusing on students and student success as laid out in the current strategic plan. “I could see that Norfolk State was on the move. And really was focusing on the success of our students and preparing them,” Adams-Gaston said in an interview for BEHOLD during her second week on campus.

In her more than 30 years of higher education experience, President Adams-Gaston has touched
the lives of hundreds of thousands of students through her work at nationally recognized institutions of higher learning. At those institutions — the University of Maryland, College Park and The Ohio State University — she was a pioneer. The first African American female assistant athletic director (Division 1) at Maryland and the first female African American Vice President for Student Life at Ohio State.

Her success has come through her ability and commitment to building meaningful, productive  elationships that lay the foundation for collaboration, community-building, progress and success. “I want people to know that I am very focused on our goals. How do we meet those goals? But more importantly, how do we support the people component? Because when people are on board and they are able to do their best work or able to contribute their best or students are able to ask questions and get answers about their education, then the enterprise can move. But without the people, the  enterprise does not function.”

President Adams-Gaston is inspired by Norfolk State’s history and its legacy. In May at a welcoming
reception hosted by the Board of Visitors, she said: “As I enter the space at Norfolk State University, I experience it as a sacred space. HBCUs created a way forward for Black students when there did not seem to be a way. The opportunities to enter higher education and leave with a degree that could change the entire family tree existed only because of NSU and other HBCUs.

That history and legacy can be seen and is realized through Norfolk State’s graduates. “Alumni are
so central to our mission,” she said. “First, they demonstrate to our young students that what has
been created here is success. Also they are the individuals who we look to help with guiding us,
supporting us and donating so other students can get through this pipeline and be successful.”

Alumni also provide a wealth of knowledge. “I have always done a lot of outreach to our alumni. I want to know who our alums are, and I want to know what they see,” she said. “We need our alumni to continue to prove that Norfolk State is a place to be proud of and a place where they helped create that pride.

As an administrator who has leadership experience at public universities, Dr. Adams-Gaston understands the importance of fundraising and the reality that state appropriations will never match the University’s financial needs. “We should be looking for donors from all over the world and all over the country who can see the potential in Norfolk State and who want to support our future goals and aspirations.” It’s a big commitment, but the President is ready to make it. “And that means being on the road so that people have the ability to talk with me — to meet face-to-face — and for me
to tell the story of Norfolk State University,” she said. “And of course, inviting individuals to campus to experience the opportunities and success at NSU.”

Just before leaving Ohio State for NSU, the Columbus City Council recognized Dr. Adams-Gaston’s selection as Norfolk State President with a resolution. Although it was a surprise to her, she noted the importance of partnerships and relationships. “I have to be available to the community here
and visible in the community to say there’s something great happening here.” She wants to encourage Norfolk State students to go out into the community a well. “To do service learning, to do outreach in the community — that is a big part of who we are and what we should be doing. I believe it matters for young kids to see our Norfolk State students out in the community because it gives them something to aspire to.” She also wants to provide more opportunities for young people to come onto campus, “So that they know that this is their campus, and that we fully expect for them to be preparing to come here and to graduate.”

Dr. Adams-Gaston is committed and ready. “I promise that I will work hard every day. I will work smart every day. I will work with each of you every day. I will work to ensure that Norfolk State University, the Norfolk State University, becomes all that it is destined to be,” she said at the reception in May. “We have a mission, and we shall fulfill that mission.”

For President Adams-Gaston, this is our time and this is our future.

-photos courtesy of Jeannie Hobbs

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