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EDUCATION


JONATHAN R. ALGER PRESIDENT, JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY, HARRISONBURG


MAKOLA M. ABDULLAH PRESIDENT, VIRGINIA STATE UNIVERSITY, ETTRICK


While many college presidents enjoy basketball, few have Abdullah’s moves. In March, a video of him tying up an opponent went viral, receiving millions of views and appearing on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Abdullah has overseen dramatic turnarounds at


Virginia State University since he became its 14th president in 2016.


Prior to his tenure, VSU was running a $19 million deficit and was put on academic warning by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Now VSU is on better financial footing and fully accredited by SACSCOC. In 2018, Virginia State was named HBCU of the


Year by HBCU Digest, which also named Abdullah its 2017 HBCU Male President of the Year. Abdullah has overseen the establishment of an


advisory board for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and imple- mented a 2020-2025 strategic plan. Last year, billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $30 million to the university, its largest-ever single-donor giſt.


FIRST JOB: When I was 13 years old, I was a counselor for mentally challenged young people. It was a lot of fun and great to feel as though I was making a difference in someone’s life.


In a year when many institutions were adversely impacted by the pandemic, JMU, under the leadership of Alger, the university’s sixth president, partnered with the Harrisonburg community on a Stop the Spread campaign and aided in local vaccine administration. The school also renamed three campus buildings that had honored Confederates. Hired in 2012, Alger had previously served as senior vice president and general counsel at Rutgers University and as assistant general counsel for the University of Michigan, where he was a key adviser in two successful U.S. Supreme Court cases on diversity in college admissions. His key initiatives include JMU’s Valley Scholars program, which offers full scholarships to first-generation Shenandoah Valley college students from low-income backgrounds. He also has overseen major expansions, as well as the school’s $200 million Unleashed fundraising campaign, which reached its goal nearly a year and a half early. During the last year, JMU opened its 8,500-seat Atlantic Union Bank Center arena, the $72.1 million College of Business building and its new Dukes Dining Hall. Alger received his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in history at Swarthmore College and earned his law degree from Harvard Law School.


PETER BLAKE DIRECTOR, STATE COUNCIL OF HIGHER EDUCATION FOR VIRGINIA, RICHMOND


As the state’s point man for higher education, Blake worked during the pandemic to help institutions address issues related to COVID-19 prevention, testing and mitigation. He also helped develop Pathways to Opportunity, a statewide strategic plan for increasing access to higher education, making it more equitable and affordable. Additionally, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia entered into a partnership with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce to create the Virginia Talent + Opportunity Partnership intern- ship program.


Blake has worked in higher education for 30 years, starting as a research analyst at


SCHEV. He subsequently became a legislative analyst for the Virginia House Appropriations Committee, before serving as the state’s deputy secretary of education from 2002 to 2005 and secretary of education from 2005 to 2006. Blake was then vice chancellor for workforce development services for the Virginia Community College System before returning to SCHEV as interim director in 2011. He became director the following year. Blake serves on the boards of Lead Virginia and the Richmond Public Library Foundation.


HOBBY/PASSION: In the last several years, I have become more interested in walking and hiking, and have a reputation of forcing friends and family to get outside.


LANCE R. COLLINS VICE PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VIRGINIA TECH INNOVATION CAMPUS, ALEXANDRIA


Since Collins became vice president and executive director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in August 2020, a number of milestones have been achieved. A strategic plan for the $1 billion campus — currently being built out in Alexandria — has been developed for graduate education in computer science and computer engineering. In May, The Boeing Co. was named the campus’s first foundational partner, with a $50 million, multiyear commitment. The inaugural Innovation Campus class — about 75 students based in the


Washington, D.C., region pursuing master’s degrees in computer science and computer engineering — started in fall 2020; the campus’s first academic build- ing, an 11-story, 300,000-square-foot structure, is scheduled to open in 2024. During the pandemic, Collins mobilized alumni and students to build more than 70 custom desks for local low-income children doing virtual schooling. He also collaborated with Manumission Tour Co. to help inform students, staff and alumni about the contributions of African Americans in Alexandria. Collins serves on the board of trustees for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Foundation and The Mitre Corp., as well as the advisory boards of the engineer- ing colleges of the University of Delaware and the University of Michigan.


48 VIRGINIA 500


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