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Pandemic safety among top priorities for incoming ODU president who's looking to grow the university's online presence

President-elect of Old Dominion University, Dr. Brian Hemphill will take office in a matter of months and he is already planning for the future.

NORFOLK, Va. — Old Dominion University's President-elect Dr. Brian Hemphill said he's ready to lead the university through the coronavirus pandemic, and safety is at the top of his agenda.  

In August, he will become Old Dominion University’s ninth president and first black president.   

He said ODU’s strong online presence made a difference during the pandemic, and that’s one thing he wants to further strengthen when he takes office.  

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on colleges and universities all across the country – and the world for that matter," he said.  “When everything happened in March, you had to pivot really, really quickly. And most had a week – some maybe had two weeks to prepare bringing students back, in terms of a virtual sense... Having an infrastructure like what you had at ODU allowed them to pivot very quickly and almost seamlessly.”  

He said he's impressed with ODU and the work done by current president John Broderick and teams are already developing plans for the spring, summer, and fall semesters. Dr. Hemphill said it’s the execution that is most important.

RELATED: Old Dominion University returns to in-person instruction

“Whether that be more of our testing, social distancing in our classrooms and campus, to looking at all of the key protocols to ensure we keep students, staff, and faculty safe," Dr. Hemphill said. 

He has experience with this as the current president of Virginia's Radford University. 

“I think that’s a part of the benefit of being, not only in the commonwealth and understanding some of the expectations from the governor and leadership, and looking at how we are going to continue to navigate this, following VDH guidelines and expectations," He explained. "But understanding how that works and is actually executed on the campus.” 

Creating a more diverse faculty and staff is another goal for the school’s future president.

He said inclusion and diversity are critical when it comes to the university experience.

“When you think about diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society today, it probably has even greater meaning than it did a decade ago," Dr. Hemphill said. 

He said, he wants the diversity of the school’s faculty to better reflect the student body, and when the opportunity presents itself, Hemphill said he will direct his team to hire more diverse educators.  

“Twenty-eight percent of the faculty are from diverse backgrounds and when you look at the makeup of the student body, I think there are some unique opportunities for looking at how we continue to grow our diversity in terms of our faculty and our staff," he said. “When you look at some of the experts that we have across the country, that we will actively recruit as opportunities become available.”   

Dr. Hemphill said staff, faculty and students have all noted the significance of having an African-American man in ODU’s highest office.

It's something he says holds a lot of meaning, not only to him but the wider community.  

“It’s another step of showing that opportunities are there," he said. "And letting people know there are many doors you have the ability to walk through with the support and guidance of those around you.” 

Dr. Hemphill said other priorities for him are student success and graduation rates, research, and philanthropy.  

In August, he will succeed current ODU president John Broderick, who is also the university's longest-serving president.