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Woolfolk takes positive approach to LU presidency

Woolfolk takes positive approach to LU presidency

October 7th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Jerald Jones Woolfolk is seated in her president of Lincoln University office for an interview. Woolfolk was inaugurated Friday, Oct. 6, 2018, as the 20th president of Lincoln University in a ceremony at Mitchell Auditorium.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

D'Angelo Bratton-Bland, president of Lincoln University's Student Government Association, thanked new LU President Jerald Jones Woolfolk "for your positive energy" during her first four months on the job.

During Friday's formal inauguration ceremonies installing Woolfolk, Bratton-Bland said she is "an illustrious woman leading an illustrious university."

Woolfolk told the News Tribune last week, during a 30-minute interview, she has no regrets about taking the job as Lincoln's 20th president, nor has she been surprised by anything she's encountered so far.

She noted she's worked at several different types of institutions during her three dozen years in higher education, "And I researched Lincoln diligently, looking at data from the National Center of Education Statistics, so I knew about the enrollment the retention and the graduation rates.

"I knew that those would be priority items and would be the major issues that the institution would face in the future."

Deborah Stanley, president of the State University of New York-Oswego, where Woolfolk worked as a vice president before accepting the LU president's job last spring, told Woolfolk during Friday's ceremonies: "It strikes me that you have built a legacy over a lifetime of letting people know who you are, what you stand for and what you can contribute to this world."

Woolfolk said during her interview Wednesday — and repeated during her remarks in Friday's program — Lincoln is a school with a bright future.

"This is one of the best-kept secrets that I've seen," she told the News Tribune. "This is a beautiful institution with great potential — and nobody knows it."

So, she said, Lincoln must be more purposeful in telling its story to the nation.

That story includes Lincoln's founding by African-American soldiers of Missouri's 62nd and 65th Colored Infantry units who wanted to start a school that could help former slaves learn basic reading and writing skills.

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A historically black university (HBCU), Lincoln's population expanded after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring segregated schools to be unconstitutional — so diversity also is a part of Lincoln's story today.

"We've been doing this for years, and years, and years," Woolfolk noted. "The success that we have had bringing different people is one of our strengths that we need to share with the world."

SUNY-Oswego is a predominately white institution in upstate New York.

Stanley said Woolfolk helped to make it a more diverse school.

"Jerald has a passion for students that fuels her commitment to the success of every student," Stanley said. "She had a way of soothing the people she met with a wave or a hug."

And three of her former students from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, testified to that.

All three joked Woolfolk, who was dean of students then, made them feel as though each was her favorite student.

Toni Owens, who since has earned master's and doctorate degrees, and lives in Overland Park, Kansas, announced Friday: "I am a direct product of Dr. Woolfolk's influence, encouragement, direction, undying love and support.

"The day I first met her, her smile was as bright as the sun. Her laugh, so infectious. Her warm and giving spirit but, more importantly, her love for her students drew me to her immediately."

Noni Hardin, now an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University, was a freshman at Arkansas-Pine Bluff when she met Woolfolk.

"It changed my life," she said. "The moment I met her, I knew she was an extraordinary woman — and she was who I wanted to be, (with) her keen and discerning intellect, her transformative vision, her strategic thinking and action, her constant desire to be informed and how she always, always, always delivers on her promises."

Woolfolk also could be "scary," Hardin said, because "she had an unwavering commitment to excellence, and you knew when she looked at you, she could see what you were capable of becoming — and you wanted to live up to that."

The Rev. Smokie Norful — who also is a Grammy-winning Gospel singer — also knew Woolfolk in Pine Bluff.

"I remember as a kid, long before college," he recalled, "my father was her pastor.

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"Even as a child, I saw her be faithful both to ministry and to God."

And then, he said, "I saw her be faithful to the university, (and) of course, her commitment to her students is eternal. It's ongoing. It's perpetual."

Tucker Sholtes, a 2015 SUNY-Oswego graduate who was student body president when Woolfolk arrived in New York in 2014, also agreed.

"Dr. Woolfolk challenged me," he said. "She taught me what leadership looks like, but also what it feels like (and) I'm a better leader, a better student, a better citizen and a better man."

Woolfolk's son, Brandon, 24, told Friday's inauguration ceremony he has been impressed by her work ethic over the years.

"I remember coming home in the summer during her Ph.D. program," Brandon Woolfolk recalled. "You'd come into a room, and it was just floor-to-ceiling with papers everywhere (and) looked like a 'Law and Order' crime scene and she was just slumped over her computer.

"And a few months later, I see her walking across the stage, getting that doctoral degree."

That, he said, "always showed me that, whatever I'm willing to work at, if I'm willing to put in the amount of time, I can accomplish that."

Woolfolk told a reporter Brandon "has helped me get to this point. When I started working on my Ph.D. in 2006 — and he was like 12 — he would help me alphabetize my articles while I was writing my dissertation.

"He's very proud — and I'm very proud of him."

Although her mother wasn't able to come Friday because of recent surgery, a number of her other family members attended the inauguration ceremonies — and she surprised them by announcing her family was establishing a $25,000 endowed scholarship in honor of her mother.

Woolfolk said her work is built on the successes of those who came before her, but she isn't tied to what's happened in the past.

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"There are probably some things in the past that we will carry forward," she told a reporter. "But there will also be changes where changes need to be made."

She hopes to bring new strengths and new strategies, as often is expected of a new university president.

If she has a weakness, she said, it's her passion interfering with her ability to cooperate.

"I hate to lose. I hate to fail. I'm just very driven about myself (and) about the success of the organization," she said.

But, ultimately, cooperation and establishing a shared vision are more important.

"It's not about the administration," she said. "It's about building a community that we're all working toward the same thing.

"It's not just the president. It is everybody — including the community."