New program manager coming soon

As Virginia Wesleyan expands its ties in the local community, other partnerships have been strengthened, as well. The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC) has chosen Wesleyan as the home of its first satellite office outside of Richmond.

The new program manager will develop and maintain a network of connections across the Hampton Roads area for VCIC. In addition, the program manager will also create three customized programs for Wesleyan students, staff and faculty. The program manager is scheduled to arrive by the middle of this month, Oct. 16 being the target date, and will be working from Graybeal 5 in Allen Village (formerly Village II).

The VCIC is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to “achieve success by addressing prejudices, in all forms, in order to improve academic achievement, increase workplace productivity, and enhance local trust,” according to its website. The organization primarily works with schools, business and communities.

“Virginia Wesleyan’s ties run deep with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, and we are honored to work so collaboratively with this like-minded organization,” President Scott Miller said in a press release. “Colleges have special opportunities and obligations to establish behaviors for inclusiveness, to work for social justice, and to achieve progress for everyone by doing what they do best: teaching and illuminating.”

Kelly Jackson, the associate director for the Center of the Study for Religious Freedom (CSRF), played a large part in facilitating the partnership and strengthening it through the new satellite office. Her first experience with the VCIC was in 1998, when the organization sponsored the Nexus Interfaith Dialogue program.

        “Somewhere along the line they invited me to join the Tidewater chapter,” Jackson said. Though the VCIC is based in Richmond, it has chapters in Tidewater, Lynchburg and Peninsula. She accepted the invitation, and has been a member since 2004. From 2014-2017 she also served as the chapter chair.

        “We’ve been talking for years about possibly getting someone here on a full time basis to cover Hampton Roads,” said Jackson. This year, enough funds were finally raised and the organization began work to find a suitable office space and member to fit the job requirements.

The VCIC hosted an open search process which involved two rounds of interviews, among other criteria.

“We had a really strong candidate pool,” VCIC CEO and President Jonathan Zur said, but “there was a clear favorite that rose to the top.” The candidate was offered the position, and accepted as the new VCIC Hampton Roads Program Manager.

“Being on the Tidewater chapter board, I knew this, and so then I said ‘we need to get this person,’” Jackson said. “Dr. Wansink and I talked with [President Miller] about the possibility of hosting the office here, and he really made it happen.” After some deliberation, the VCIC chose Wesleyan as the host site over several other institutions that had expressed interest.

“They reached out and said they were interested, and we went back and forth a little bit just to firm up what the details would be, but it was a pretty easy and smooth process. I think it speaks to the depth of the relationship and trust we’ve had over the years,” Zur said.

The new program manager is currently making preparations to move closer to Wesleyan. A public announcement and possible press conference will follow the official arrival of the manager.

“The Hampton Roads community has really embraced us with open arms,” Zur said. “The best way to serve a community is to be in the community, and so this is a step for us in that direction.”

Later on, around the beginning of November, Zur also said VCIC would like to host a ribbon cutting ceremony, hopefully on Wesleyan’s campus.

Besides creating a network of connections in the Southside and Peninsula, the manager will also create three programs specifically for the campus, which will be free of charge and customized to student, staff and faculty needs. Possible programs range from diversity and facilitation training and professional development and more.

“[The VCIC] will benefit because the will be in this environment with a lot of young people and academic resources and talent from the faculty and staff. They’re in fertile ground for them to grow. And I think we, as an institution, will also benefit from their expertise,” Jackson said.

Zur and Jackson both encouraged residents and stakeholders on campus to look at what areas are most in need of targeted programs, or which areas present the most opportunity.

“I’m excited because I think it will mean that we don’t just have a person and office space on campus, but that we’re actually doing work with the institution,” Zur said.

Though there are no official plans for further collaborations between the campus and VCIC, Jackson said she was hopeful regarding a positive and continued dialogue. “We have to really get the person here and introduce them to our campus community and look for those natural intersections,” Jackson said.  

“There will likely be things along the way that we learn about the staff position, and there may be some challenges we have to work through, but so far it’s been great,” Zur said. “We want to learn from this experience and see how it helps us.”

Wesleyan’s partnerships with VCIC began in 1998, when it sponsored the Nexus Interfaith Dialogue program for the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom (CSRF). “It’s one of our hallmark programs,” Jackson said. “The goal of the Nexus program is to cultivate mutual understanding and respect across religious traditions.”

Since then, VCIC has led diversity training for freshman, facilitation training for the campus at large and partnered with the CSRF and Muslim communities of Hampton Roads to host a Ramadan Iftar dinner.

More recently, Miller was the chair for the VCIC’s Tidewater Humanitarian Awards Dinner in March, an event which has honored many Wesleyan community members. The award was most recently given to Craig Wanksink in 2017 for outstanding service. Other members who have been awarded in the past include former VWC president Lambuth Clarke (1991), Trustee Emeritus George Birdsong (1997), former Trustee B. Minette Cooper (2000), Trustee Vincent Mastracco (2000), former Trustee G. Robert Aston Jr. (2002), Trustee Mary Haddad (2004), CSRF founding fellow Robert Nusbaum (2013) and Vice President Emeritus Jim Bergdoll (2016).

Lambuth Clarke and Henry Clay Hofheimer have also served as the Awards Dinner chair, in 1979 and 1965, respectively.

Mickella Rast