FVSU presidential candidate ‘poised’ for leadership

jmink@macon.comMay 29, 2013 

Sandra Westbrooks

FORT VALLEY -- Sandra Westbrooks initially had no aspirations to go into higher education.

But after years as an elementary teacher, colleagues noticed her passion for transforming lives and convinced her to pursue a career on the college level. Now, as provost of Chicago State University, Westbrooks is one of four candidates vying to be the next president of Fort Valley State University.

Westbrooks was the second candidate to make her case for the position during forums being held this week. That position will be vacated when President Larry Rivers steps down June 30.

“We hope you will agree that our selection of these four candidates was right on point,” Meigan Fields, chairwoman of the presidential search and screen committee, told the audience Wednesday.

Westbrooks highlighted the experience that she would bring to Fort Valley State and focused on ways to market the university and on her leadership style.

“Visions are not created by a president,” she said. “Visions are created collectively as a whole.”

She has used that teamwork strategy throughout her career. At Chicago State, Westbrooks urged a grounds worker to pitch his idea for energy savings at the university, an idea which officials adopted.

After spending two decades at Chicago State -- filling roles from senior vice president of academic affairs to dean of education -- Westbrooks helped bring in new programs and projects. She was behind the university’s first doctoral program in educational leadership, as well as successful accreditation efforts. She also developed an incentive that improved graduation rates and a plan to place qualified graduates in faculty positions at partner community colleges. She also developed an idea for inter sessions -- courses in between semesters to help students catch up and improve retention. She also helped the college of education become the first wireless building on campus.

“That was historical at the institution,” she said.

As a leader, Westbrooks said she focuses on introducing students to philanthropy, improving technology, expanding academics, increasing endowments, developing more study abroad and internship opportunities, and marketing the university.

In fact, Westbrooks and her husband went undercover during their visit to Fort Valley State, asking random employees about the university. She was pleased with the enthusiastic response from workers in the school library, as well as from a campus police officer, she said.

She encouraged faculty members to tout the positive aspects of the university. She focused on the importance of partnerships with middle schools, high schools and churches. When arriving in Fort Valley, Westbrooks noticed there seemed to be “a church on every corner,” she said.

“That’s one of the best places to do recruitment,” she said.

Westbrooks, who attended college at Eastern Illinois University, received her doctorate from Indiana State University and spent much of her career in Chicago, was asked by an audience member how she would transition to a different culture.

“My track record has proven that I can adapt,” she said. “Is it going to be like home? No. If I wanted home, I would stay there.”

Instead, she wants to impact lives and take the next step in her career, she said.

“I think I’m poised,” Westbrooks said.

Candidate Phyllis Dawkins -- provost, senior vice president for academic affairs and professor of education and psychology at Dillard University -- spoke Tuesday. The third candidate, Daniel K. Wims, provost at Alabama A&M University, will speak Thursday. The fourth candidate, Ivelaw Griffith, provost of York College at the City University of New York, will speak Monday. Both events will be at 3:30 p.m. in the C.W. Pettigrew Center.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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