Thank You VAEOPP

Two years ago, I did the unthinkable and accepted the nomination to serve as President-Elect of VAEOPP. I was excited, I was naïve, and more than anything else – I was nervous!  And for good reason.

As a public speaker and debater, I have a reputation for being talented. As a writer; even more so. But in front of this group, I’ve more often than not been very nervous. Because as I’ve said before, this is God’s work!! And I didn’t want to mess it up.

This past year, VAEOPP took steps to ensure that we maintain the healthy financial gains that our association has achieved through the active participation of our member institutions. As Al Phillips reminded us last night, just a few years removed from sequestration, VAEOPP is operating with healthy finances and is amongst the leading organizations in our regional association. That speaks to the strength of our programs and to our growing willingness to collaborate – even during grant writing seasons. Our 2014 and 2015 TRIO achievers are both sterling examples of the fruit produced by our programs, so I want to encourage each of you to continue to fight the good fight to support low income, first generation participants and students with documented physical and learning disabilities.

We took a calculated risk to have this year’s conference without our sister association, as we had done in the past. But because we budgeted wisely and spent frugally, we have been rewarded with a healthy treasury to do the organization’s work. As a result, we can continue to award eight scholarships. Under Kristy Casstevens leadership, we have begun the process of reaching out to TRIO professionals in neighboring states, an effort that I will continue as Immediate Past President to attract more participants to our membership and to increase attendance at the Eastern, Western, and Fall Conferences.

From an organizational and budget perspective, we have taken steps to ensure that, going forward, President’s Elect will receive valuable leadership training prior to Policy Seminar, enabling them to better support the sitting president and equipping them for the work that lies ahead. Similarly, implementing board training at the Fall Conference will allow for smoother transitions for new officers. And supporting the Paul Spraggins’ Initiative will strengthen our regional Emerging Leaders Institute, enhancing professional development opportunities for our membership.

I am also very proud of our advocacy efforts this year. Kay Williams, Kristy Casstevens, and others, organized another exceptional Walk-the-Hill initiative, augmented by additional visits to Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott’s district office. That advocacy was instrumental to the Department of Education’s revamping of the competitive preference priorities for the Student Support Services competition, preserving the benefit of our prior experience points. Our members actively working with Kimberly Jones and Angelica Vialpando before the award notification process lent to programs in Virginia receiving sound advice during the appeals process, crucial support that preserved valuable programs in our association.

We have work yet to do with our VAEOPP Emerging Leaders Program, but this year’s participants supported some very worthy projects that significantly enhanced our association and ensured that our fall conference proceeded without complication. Jessica Ketron, our new President-Elect, will lead the ELI initiative this year, and she will do an outstanding job.

When I assumed the position of President-Elect, one of my goals was to help VAEOPP better utilize technology. After a very deliberative process and a few fits and starts, I am pleased to conclude my term with the launching of www.VAEOPP.org. It is my firm belief that our new website will facilitate better communication and information sharing, improve the conference registration process, provide greater resources for our current constituents, and encourage Virginia’s remaining non-dues paying institutions to become active and financial members of our organization.

In closing, the past few days, weeks, and months have been extremely busy and rewarding. But I think you would agree that this year’s Fall Conference was a resounding success. So please allow me again to thank Kristy Casstevens, April Quesenberry, Carol Conner, Holly Hall, and Sandra Capps for all of your organizational and logistical support. I would be remiss if I did not extend a special thank you to Jelissa Sinn-Braswell, Asia Randolph, and Sylvia Jackson for everything that you have done to support me in this endeavor and to provide excellent services to our students on a day-to-day basis. Of course, I would like to thank my wife and two sons for your support and inspiration. Your exceptionalism allows me to work un-godly hours to support my students at Hampton University and to serve this fine organization. Finally, I must thank my grandmother, Amanette Jean Sessom, whose intellect, class, grace, and unconditional love enabled this low income kid to earn two college degrees, to pursue a third, and to serve as president of an organization that exists to change the life trajectory of deserving students.

To Christy Hardbarger, Vrginia Keithley, Charlotte Mowery, and the incomparable Ollie Tolliver, thank you for your support and mentorship. You have no idea how much you mean to me and to all of us who aspire to build upon your work. To Dr. Mike Henry, thank you for being a mentor, a coach, and a friend. I would like to thank Dr. Barbara Leseur Inman, Vice President for Administrative Services at Hampton University, whose unwavering support allowed me to serve in VAEOPP. And of course Kristy Casstevens and April Quesenberry – I have often referred to us as the “three headed monster” because we collaborated on so many decisions throughout this process. April, you have been faithful to this work and will prove to be an outstanding president for VAEOPP. Kristy, there is no way that I could have served in this capacity without you! To my Board, Regina  Barnett-Tyler, Kay Williams, Dr. Darius Beechum, Marcia Mitchell, Stacey Jones, Brandon Honaker, Betsy Lemly, Karen Robertson, Willet Hackney-Davis, Jessica Ketron, Whitney Wells, and Maria Whited, we did it!!

Thank you all and may God bless TRIO.

Mikael L. Davis, MA.Ed.,
VAEOPP President 2014-15
Immediate Past President 2015-16