Dr. Ronnie Hopkins feels that God has placed him in the right place at the right time as the leader of Voorhees University.

“I’m tremendously blessed and honored to have the opportunity to lead Voorhees from college to university, and certainly at this time of our historic 125 years of existence,” Hopkins said.

Voorhees is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. The anniversary was celebrated during a Founder’s Day Convocation held on Thursday, when the institution’s name also officially changed from Voorhees College to Voorhees University.

Hopkins will be inaugurated as the 10th president of Voorhees on Friday.

He is no stranger to the university, where he had already served as provost.

“Voorhees has been going in an amazingly wonderful progression over the last several years. I’ve been with Voorhees for about five or six years. I was immediate past provost before I became interim president and then, of course, I was named president. That’s such an honor,” he said.

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His vision for the institution, which Elizabeth Evelyn Wright founded in 1897, includes a blueprint for the success of the surrounding community.

“We’ve been headed in the right direction; however, we believe that we need to move. Our mantra has become and our focus has become to move to the next level of excellence. So we’re absolutely looking in that direction. That includes academics, student development and community development,” Hopkins said.

He said an expansion of the university’s academic programs is one of his goals.

“This year we were approved for our first graduate program, a master’s of education in teaching and learning. So we look forward to expanding our master’s degrees and also adding doctoral degrees,” Hopkins said.

The president said the institution is also focusing on the launch of its Becoming Beloved Community initiative.

“The thinking there is that Voorhees should not be just an institution that sits on 375 acres of land. We need to reach out and make certain that we’re going out into the community and finding out what community needs are not just in Denmark, but also Bamberg County, Allendale County and all of our neighboring counties,” Hopkins said.

He wants to transform an area that has traditionally been attached to the “Corridor of Shame” to a “Corridor of Success.”

“We are really looking forward to impacting the rural communities and also focusing on strategic best practices that we can share, particularly as part of our Rural Community Development Institute. We have a number of things going on, and there are a number of ways that we just must reach out and touch the community,” Hopkins said, including with the university’s Center for Women’s Advancement and Empowerment and Center for Community Development.

He continued, “We’re going to be launching our social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, as well as our environmental justice initiative. It’s important to do environmental justice because we are in a rural community, and we certainly want to make certain that we are taking advantage of increasing and developing a zero carbon print for us and for the community.”

“We’ll be looking at solar farming and how that will impact our campus and community. We’ll be looking at organic farming, how that will impact our community. So there are just a number of initiatives that fold under the vision of the next level of excellence for us,” Hopkins said.

There are plans, for example, to transfer the Denmark-Olar Elementary School campus into a complex including not just the university information technology department and its initiatives, but community resources.

“That’s where we intend to house our Becoming Beloved Community initiative. We’re certainly so grateful to partner with the school district and with the county. We want to ensure that that facility is used and can be used for the community. We want to make sure that we continue our educational programs, reaching out to not just Bamberg, but all the surrounding counties,” Hopkins said.

The president continued, “What we think will be very important is to make certain that there is a community technology lab so that individuals from the community can come in at any time if they are struggling with bandwidth or WiFi access, even computers. We want to make sure that the community understands that we’re partners and that we’re truly working together.”

A pictorial museum is also planned at the former elementary school site.

“We’d like to identify a location in that very building … so that we can capture what the community has done over the last 150 years and actually place that there. We want people to come there and see their grandparents, or see themselves when they were at Voorhees Junior College, or Voorhees High School. We want to develop that as a part of that facility,” Hopkins said.

He is most excited about the ways in which the university will be developed.

“I’m most excited about the development of Voorhees University and how that will impact our students because they deserve excellence. That’s exactly what my amazing senior leadership team, our amazing board of trustees, and our amazing and dedicated faculty and staff intend to provide for them – an excellent campus for teaching and learning so they can go out and move to the next level of excellence themselves as it relates to their careers,” Hopkins said.

The university’s strategic plan includes a goal to have a minimum of 800 students on campus in five years.

“Actually we were headed in the right direction before COVID. We then took a dip in our enrollment, but we are excited because we do have a plan. Our strategic plan is to right-size enrollment for Voorhees University. As part of our five-year strategic plan, our plan is to have a minimum of 800 students on our campus in five years to make it very vivacious and just the type of campus that we need,” Hopkins said.

“All the research says that a campus our size ought to have at least about 800 or more students. So that’s our goal, and we’re headed in that direction,” he said.

Hopkins said the university is very “intentional, strategic and methodical” about ensuring that the institution reaches a level of excellence that both its students and community deserves.

“When we say Voorhees University, we truly do mean not just the campus, but our community. We’re very interested in ensuring that we are good stewards of the institution and the community,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins thanks God for his position.

“I feel like this is certainly an appointment. I deem myself a minister of education – an ordained minister of education by God. It’s a labor of love,” he said.

Hopkins continued, “I absolutely have worked in higher ed now for over 30 years and have literally just gone through the ranks of professorship and taught public school as well. I taught middle and elementary school and community college.

“I know that God placed me in the education arena, and I know that God placed me at this time at Voorhees for a reason.”

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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