Rachel Fowlkes (Ed.D. ’84, Admin & Supv) Longtime director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, Dr. Rachel Fowlkes, will be hanging up her many hats she has worn throughout the last 24 years since the Center’s inception, officially on June 30, 2015 as she retires.
Fowlkes was honored Thursday [June 14, 2014] in the John P. Johnson, Jr. Grand Hall at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center with a reception filled with the region’s biggest players in the field of promoting higher education for adults over the age of 25.
During this reception, remarks about Fowlkes tenure were made by Kevin Crutchfield, Chair of the Center’s Board of Trustees, Delegate Joe Johnson, Carl Clarke, former University of Virginia Site Director, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, Fowlkes’ daughter, Merrill Fowlkes Hoopengardener and Duffy Carmack, Chief Financial Officer of HEC. Fowlkes closed out the reception with a comment of her role.
Fowlkes jokingly said about her role, “If you ask anybody that works here at the Higher Ed Center, “What do I do?” there will be this pause, and then they’d say, “She really doesn’t do anything, but sit around in that office and dream up things for us to do.”
During her time as Director, Carmack stated that Fowlkes biggest success was bringing accessible higher education to adults of the region. This accessibility includes having the largest bandwidth in the area with the latest technologies in communication in order to have ten colleges and universities with more than 100 degree programs being available to people from one central location in Abingdon, Virginia. READ MORE IN THE BRISTOL HERALD COURIER.
From the Curry Alumni Magazine (2010):
The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon was Fowlkes’s brainchild—an idea that came to her while she served as director of the University of Virginia’s Continuing Education Southwest Regional Center.
“Many of our high school graduates go to the community colleges in the region,” Fowlkes explains, “but only 10 percent of the region’s residents hold bachelor’s degrees. It’s not that they don’t value education, but they need it to be available at a time and place that fits their circumstances.”
Seeing the need for bachelor’s degree completion programs and opportunities for graduate degrees, she envisioned a center bringing to the region a broader range of programs than a single university could provide. With the help of Del. Ford Quillen, who served the 1st District from 1970 to 1993, the center was signed into existence by the Virginia General Assembly in 1991. Fowlkes has served as its executive director ever since.
Fowlkes began tapping the Curry School for degree programs and courses even before the SVHEC was established. “She is relentless in pursuing faculty from Curry to teach for her center,” says Dan Hallahan, Curry professor emeritus. Hallahan co-chaired her dissertation committee with Lynn Canady when Fowlkes was in the doctoral program at Curry.
Fowlkes oversaw construction of an 89,000-squarefoot SVHEC education and conference complex, which was completed in 1998. The facility is a showplace of outreach to the Commonwealth, where courses not only are taught face to face but are also broadcast to remote sites.
“Rachel’s single focus has been providing opportunities for a better life to those in southwest Virginia through education and economic development,” says Leonard Sandridge, retired U.Va. executive vice president and chief operating officer. “No task is too big for Rachel.”