On Thursday, Virginia Lottery director Penelope Ward Kyle was named the next president of Radford University.
The Galax native brings with her more than a decade's experience in state government and years of service on public college boards. The Radford presidency will be her first job in higher education administration.
Radford officials expect Kyle, who begins in June after Douglas Covington retires, to be a major fund-raiser for the university. She talked with The Roanoke Times on Friday about her new job, her prior experience and her Southwest Virginia roots.
Q: You've worked for the Virginia Lottery for a little more than 10 years. What so interested you in Radford University that you were willing to leave the job and relocate your family?
A: Well, obviously, the first thing that would catch your attention, at least for me, is the location. Had Radford University been located in a part of the state with which I'm unfamiliar, I don't know that it would have leaped out at me to say, 'Hey, you ought to go for this.'
But the fact that it is Radford, that it is close to my home of Galax, [and] it is the college where almost every girlfriend I had in high school attended, I have always felt like I had a relationship with Radford College, now [Radford] University, even though I did not matriculate here myself.
Q: What talents and assets do you think you bring to the job?
A: I think that my 10 1/2 years in state service is going to be a real plus for me. I can tell you that if I had come here from practicing law or if I had come here from working at CSX, a Fortune 500 company, I don't think I would be as nearly well-prepared for this as I am now ....
All of my experiences in the 10 1/2 years with the lottery have been closely involved with state government. And I have learned so much that I just know that I can apply that knowledge here.
I have leadership ability, I know that. I have an outgoing personality. And I think when you're raising money, whether it's trying to get Virginians to understand that all lottery profits go to public education ... or talking with alumni and encouraging them to open up their pocketbooks and help support Radford University, I think the same attributes that helped me take the lottery where it is today will help me in this job, too.
Q: You just sat through your first Radford Board of Visitors meeting. How ready do you feel for this job?
A: I'm ready. As you know, there is a Lottery Board ... and my role in those board meetings for 10 1/2 years has not been dissimilar to the president's role in the Radford University board meetings. ...
One of my jobs at the railroad, I was in the corporate secretary's office and dealt with the board meetings for that company. And any time you have worked with a board in a staff capacity, which is sort of how I see my role, that's good training. So I think
I'm prepared for the relationship with the boards here. I have a lot to learn. ...
Q: That said, how much of a learning curve do you think you have to transition into higher education?
A: Well, I think it's going to be eased by the fact that Dr. Covington has in place here a fabulous staff. These senior administrative people that report directly to Dr. Covington, they have their respective areas under control. These are fabulously talented people and you don't often get to walk into an environment where the staff that you are going to inherit ... are to your liking. I don't think that happens very often.
But when I came for my interviews here on campus, I felt that I clicked immediately with the folks that ... serve directly under President Covington. So he's done a marvelous job. And those are your teachers. Those are the people that will be with me day in and day out teaching me the ropes. And to learn from experts like that is a wondrous opportunity for me.
I'm still learning about the lottery business 10 1/2 years later ... so it'll be a constant learning process for me here. But give me the summer and by the time everybody comes back in September, I ought to be better versed in Radford University and the role of the president of Radford University than I am today.
Q: Do you have any goals or specific initiatives for Radford yet?
A: No ... I'm not going to make any grand pronouncements until I get here. ...
You don't need to reinvent the wheel. There's no sense in me proposing something but then someone's going to say, 'Gee, we looked into that six years ago and decided we didn't want to do that.' So I need to do my research first before I come forward with making any proposals.
Q: As you know, some faculty members were hoping for a president with more academic experience. What is your message to faculty now that you've been selected?
A: I don't think that what the faculty are saying is that my degrees are not worthy. I'm sure they all realize that the University of Virginia School of Law is one of the best in the country. And I think they all acknowledge what the College of William and Mary is ... so I don't think that they doubt my educational background. ...
What I hope to be able to show them is that the years that I've spent both in private law practice and the private sector working for a Fortune 500 company - one of the largest companies headquartered in Virginia at the time - and now in working in state government have been well spent.
I could have spent all those years teaching or as a member of an administration at one of our colleges and universities. But I hope that in time they'll see that those, what, 25 years, have been well spent and that I do bring to this job those career experiences that are different from what I would have brought had I been teaching. But they're not bad. It's not a negative, it's just a difference.