By Kori Wiggins
On Nov. 10th, 2017, the Norfolk State University Board of Visitors appointed longtime supporter and NSU alumnus Vice Rector Dr. Melvin T. Stith to serve as interim president of the university.
Dr. Stith graduated from Norfolk State University in 1968 and has served on the Board of Visitors since 2013, followed by vice rector for the university since 2016. Dr. Stith received his bachelor’s degree in sociology from NSU, followed by his MBA and Ph.D. in marketing from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in 1973 and 1978.
He has also served on numerous executive boards for public corporations including Synovus Financial Corp., Aflac, Flowers Food Corporation as well as others. Throughout Dr. Stith’s years as chair holder for these different corporations, he has learned that having a dependent team around you is most important.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is to trust people to do their job. If you have a good team, you can trust those people to do a good job,” said Stith.
He also referred to the importance of not micro-managing your team and working with them if mistakes are made. “I like to hire good people and get out their way,” he said.
Student focus is the core concept of the initiatives planned by the president, which he refers to as Students First, ensuring that educators are up to par as well as ensuring support in any way possible for students.
An issue that vexes students each year is the lacking amount of financial aid. Although the decision is a congressional one, Dr. Stith is in support of additional aid for students. “Congress needs to be more sensitive to students that need more financial aid. If you ask me one thing, I would like to see an expansion of Pell Grants,” Stith said.
Dr. Stith attributed his success to motivators such as his guardians, professors and administrators of NSU, such as Dr. Lyman B. Brooks and Dr. Ethelyn R. Strong. He said they instilled in him the confidence to leave the university and compete with the best in the world.
Later in his career, Stith met Joe Beverly who mentored him and recommended Dr. Stith to different executive boards throughout his career.
“Throughout my deanship, I’d have to say my biggest challenge is trying to have revenue to do things that you want to do,” said Stith.
He also looks to create an atmosphere where students and faculty are valued and appreciated for any contribution made towards Norfolk State.
Dr. Stith said the students encourage him in this new position.
“I see students that come in. Then I see them mature for four years, and then I see them graduate. Afterwards, I see you at a homecoming, and you tell me how being a part Norfolk State made you successful. That to me is the joy I receive from my job.”