NSU’s former president remembered

Dr. Marie McDemmond’s vision boosted university’s technology focus

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/18/2022, 6 p.m.
Marie Valentine McDemmond, the first female president of Norfolk State Univer- sity and the first African-American woman to lead a ...
Dr. McDemmond

Marie Valentine McDemmond, the first female president of Norfolk State University and the first African-American woman to lead a four-year college in Virginia, is being remembered as a history-maker and educational visionary.

Dr. McDemmond, who led NSU from 1997 to 2005 before illness led to her retirement, succumbed to cancer on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at her retirement home in Florida. She was 76.

Her groundbreaking service to NSU and higher education was celebrated at a memorial service Saturday, Aug. 13, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. As NSU’s third president, she ushered in major changes, including launching the school’s first website and ensuring internet access across the campus.

Her most significant contribution, according to the university, was leading the development of a 25-acre technology hub to boost NSU’s role in technology that is now called the Marie V. McDemmond Center for Applied Research.

“She visualized the research hub at the intersection of Brambleton and Park avenues and secured funding for the construction of what was initially known as the Research Innovations to Support Empowerment Center,” the university stated in a tribute release.

“I think my legacy was to give NSU a focus on science and technology, to understand that they had to produce graduates who would go out and make a contribution to Virginia,” Dr. McDemmond said in a 2010 interview.

According to NSU, Dr. McDemmond also raised admission standards and improved academic advising for freshmen.

And she is credited for introducing a flexibility plan for the faculty, standardizing NSU’s tenure policy, and was at the forefront in creating the evaluation process used by the State Council of Higher Education in assessing the performance of state schools.

As the mother of two children, Dr. McDemmond spent her career in academe after earning her undergraduate degree from Xavier University. She also held a master’s from the University of New Orleans and earned her doctorate of education from the University of Amherst in Massachusetts.

Despite her success, she noted that it remains complex and difficult for women to rise to leadership posts, particularly at historically black colleges and universities.

Given that women represent 64 percent of NSU’s students, she called it critical to have women in leadership positions in an interview published in a 2007 in Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.

“It’s been very difficult for African-American women to succeed in leadership positions in our HBCUs. For me, that’s

unfortunate,” she stated. “Not to have women in the top leadership, I think, does not provide good role modeling for our female students.”

Since Dr. McDemmond’s left NSU, other women have served as president of the university, including its current president, Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston.

Following her retirement, Dr. McDemmond chaired the Lumina Foundation that advocates for the expansion of access to post-secondary education, and for a time served as interim dean of education at Florida International University.

“She was a true leader and pioneer,” the university stated, “whose imprint on Norfolk State will last in perpetuity.”