Editor's Note: This article is part of a series of ongoing coverages in the search for the next ISU provost. To read about the other candidates, refer to the links attached to this article.
The second of four finalists up for the position of vice president of academic affairs and provost spoke to the Illinois State University community Tuesday afternoon.
DeBrenna LaFa Agbényiga, Ph.D., previously vice president of academic affairs and provost at Bowie State University, has spent numerous years working globally and more extensively in Western, Southern and Eastern Africa as a researcher and consultant to numerous ministries, NGOs and universities.
According to the university, Agbényiga's research spans organizational culture, international social and economic development, community development and sustainability, women's rights, children's rights, gender-based violence, cross-cultural learning and diversity.
She earned her doctoral degree in social work, MBA in strategic management and an MSW in Social Work-Urban Studies from Michigan State University. Her bachelor's degree in criminal justice is from the University of South Carolina, Columbia.
The university has set up public forums as an opportunity for the campus community to learn more about each of the candidates. At the forum, each finalist is given about 20 minutes to talk about their background and share their vision for how they see the university moving forward.
Following the presentation, the floor is open to any questions from the crowd. For those unable to attend the sessions, a recording of each of the Open Forums is available online after the session is concluded.
Those in attendance are also given the opportunity to rate each of the candidates based on different categories.
These categories include vision, academic leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, resource management and development, administration, diversity and overall suitability to serve in this position.
Agbényiga gave specific examples of programs, initiatives and accomplishments at ISU and then showed examples of how she plans to elevate each of these and help them grow further.
“I want to point out that as much as I am extremely supportive of having international partners and being engaged at that level, we also need to acknowledge that there is a global society, a global community right here. And we have to make sure that we are connected to them as well.”
She discussed the importance of building relationships between students, faculty, staff and the various other stakeholders in the university.
“We can constantly talk about how we want to do things, but if we are not going to invest in ourselves, it’s very difficult for us to be successful as well,” Agbényiga said.
“When I talk about the investment, I’m talking about an integrative approach to building out Illinois State’s distinctions while allowing opportunities for us to excel. It isn’t great for an institution to be a hidden gem … everyone needs to know who you are and what you are doing.”
Agbényiga discussed that she believes in the importance of overall well-being for all students. She touched on the fact that many college students are dealing with mental health issues as well as housing and food insecurity. She wants to be able to support students beyond the classroom in order to increase their chances of success within the classroom.