By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
This week on the NSU campus, faculty, staff and students have been busy with a schedule of events marking the inauguration of the school’s fifth president, Dr. Tony Atwater on Friday March 16.
That is also the birthday of Mr. Herman Atwater, the new President’s father and first mentor. When he was a youth, Dr. Tony Atwater recalls his father imparting a piece of advice to him and his twin brother which sticks with him today.
“When it’s tough for everybody else, it’s just right for Atwaters.”
“My dad explained when life confronts you with challenges, that’s when you come forth with your best effort to overcome them,” Atwater said during an interview with the Guide late last week.
He continued, “I think that is appropriate now, as I take over the leadership of Norfolk State. We have some challenges but I think the NSU family will do our best to overcome them all.”
On March 16, at 10 a.m., Atwater’s Investiture will take place in the school’s Joseph G. Echols Memorial Hall. This is when he will officially take over as NSU’s new leader after eight months on the job.
Atwater has been on the ground running pretty hard, trying to implant his vision on Virginia’s largest Historically Black University.
The contents of Dr. Atwater’s inaugural address have been a closely guarded secret. But he managed to reveal to the Guide some of the ideas he thinks will help the school move into the 21st century and beyond on a sound footing.
“When a new leader arrives, it’s time to look toward the future. It is also a time in which we celebrate an institution’s history, traditions and core values,” said Atwater. “NSU is rich with all three and this is a good time to recognize them.”
This is not the first time that Dr. Atwater has been seated as the leader of an institution of higher learning.
He served as president and chief executive officer at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), the fifth largest university in Pennsylvania, and the largest in the State System of Higher Education with 14,600 students and nearly 1,700 employees and a budget of $220 million.
Prior to serving at IUP he was provost and vice president for academic affairs at Youngstown State University in Ohio. In this capacity, he oversaw academic programs, academic policy and academic assessment. He also provided leadership and strategic direction to approximately 750 faculty members, serving six academic colleges, the School of Graduate Studies and Research, and the library.
Atwater’s plans for NSU include enlarging undergraduate and graduate enrollment and the university’s budget from the state and other sources. He also wants to see continued improvements in the school’s physical plant. During the inaugural week, he is cutting the ribbon on the school’s new library. He says NSU is working on opening a new nursing and allied health sciences building. He said the school has set its sights on adding housing to bolster efforts to increase enrollment.
“We must also increase our ability to enroll students, retain them and graduate higher numbers of them,” Atwater said. “While they are on campus, we must strengthen our ability to support students academically. We must be student-focused.
“I would like a student support center where we can provide peer management and mentoring. Holistically, we must help develop the life skills of our students as well.”
Dr. Atwater said he would like also to strengthen NSU’s ability to support its faculty at all levels. He said he would like to expand the NSU faculty sabbatical program where instructors can expand their ability to teach students by using the latest classroom technology.
“I would like to see us recognize and reward the school’s top professors,” he said. “We would reward their efforts to have them travel off campus to improve their ability to educate our students back home.”
Dr. Atwater said he is aware of the competition of adjacent institutions for not only students but funding and top notch academics which could be recruited to add to NSU’s faculty and reputation.
“We need to strengthen our outreach to the Hampton Roads community and beyond, “ he said. “We must not only be a viable destination of education, but NSU must also be a resource to help enhance the cultural and economic life of the people in this region.”
Recently NSU’s winning of the MEAC championship in football and basketball has heightened its profile as a sports power. Atwater said the school also must show “its power in areas other than sports.
He said NSU has joined a small group of colleges and universities which have advanced science programs in scientific simulation, used by the school’s huge nursing program and School of Bio Technology.”
“The overall theme of my inaugural address is NSU…Striving,” said Atwater. “I think what the school is doing today will help it five, ten years from now. We have overcome a lot of adversity. I think the plan we have envisioned will help us achieve long after I am gone and more.”