July 8, 2015

By MICKEY POWELL, Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer


Leanna Blevins, associate director and chief academic officer for the New College Institute (NCI), has been named its acting executive director effective July 16.

Blevins will serve in that role until NCI’s board hires a successor to current Executive Director William Wampler and that person starts work. Wampler, a former state senator who represented the Bristol area, has headed NCI since early 2012 and is its second chief executive. He succeeded Barry Dorsey, who started in 2006.

Wampler announced earlier this year that he will leave the position when his contract expires July 15. At that point, he will retire from state service. However, he has said that he will become a consultant for the New College Foundation – the institute’s private fundraising arm – at least through 2017.

Blevins is second in command at NCI. She has worked for the institute since 2004, when she was vice president for students and community for the New College of Virginia, a group that worked to establish in the Martinsville-Henry County area a state-funded higher education institution providing bachelor’s degrees.

NCI provides local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees that are conferred by universities statewide. Those degrees generally are ones needed for careers that are in high demand in southern Virginia. The institute also offers specialty programs, such as the Academy for Engineering and Technology and the Southside Telehealth Training Academy and Resource Center.

Blevins previously served for 11 days as acting executive director between Dorsey’s departure and Wampler’s arrival. The Chilhowie native has a doctorate in higher education from the University of Virginia, a master’s of education degree from that university and a bachelor’s degree in communications from Virginia Tech.

It is likely that Blevins’ upcoming stint as acting executive director will be longer – a national search is planned for the next permanent executive director, but the position has not yet been advertised. NCI board Chairwoman Gracie Agnew could not be reached for comment Tuesday about how the search is going.

Blevins has not yet decided whether she will apply for the job.

While serving as the acting director, she plans to continue focusing on developing new academic programs, she said.

"The faculty and staff of NCI are all focused on a strategic direction in which we generate more educational opportunities for a wider array of students," Blevins said Tuesday.

In the future, she said, NCI will continue offering programs that lead to bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But it also will strive to offer more programs that offer professionals certifications in different aspects of their fields plus lifelong learning opportunities, she said.

"If there is an educational need in this region or the commonwealth that is not under the auspices of K-12 (public schools) or the VCCS (Virginia Community College System), NCI is going to explore" finding a way to provide it in the Martinsville-Henry County area, Blevins added.

Blevins admitted that when she came to Martinsville to work for the New College of Virginia, she was uncertain whether efforts to establish a new higher education institution locally would be successful.

Not only did those efforts succeed, they have thrived, according to Blevins. Since NCI opened in 2006, she said, 353 students have earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees through the institute, and 667 students have earned other types of credentials, such as certificates and endorsements in their fields.

Those statistics, plus NCI’s new ultramodern building on the Baldwin Block in uptown Martinsville, make Blevins confident that the institute will be a permanent part of Virginia’s higher education system.

"I’m very optimistic that this nine-year-old institution has a great future," she said, "because we have a team of faculty and staff who are passionate (about education), a board that’s committed (to NCI continuing to be successful) and a foundation that is fully supportive."