Katrina Powell loves a challenge.
Whether it’s growing up on a Providence, NC farm, managing a U.S. Army medical unit during Operation Desert Storm, or serving as city manager for cities wavering between growth and despair, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Foundation’s (SVHEFF) new executive director is in her element when the stakes are high. “I thoroughly enjoy chasing the challenge of ‘making change happen’, and I’m bored if I’m not pursuing some issue that needs to be addressed or changed. I work really well when someone tells me I can’t achieve or do something. My adrenaline goes into overdrive, as I show them I CAN and I WILL.
A former city manager for cities as diverse as Fort Meade, FL and Hamtramck, MI, Powell is now turning her vast skills and experiences to growing the SVHEF. Established in 1997, the Foundation serves as the primary supporter of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. While the non-profit has succeeded on many projects, including taking on management of the Prizery’s facilities, consistent fundraising remains a challenge. In December 2018, Foundation board members placed their bets on Powell, believing she could face this challenge and succeed.
“We’re very excited to have a person of Katrina’s abilities on board,” says SVHEF Chairman Ryan Garrett. “One of her main duties will be fundraising. Katrina’s very good at it, and has a proven track record. We think she’s the right person to help us change our region’s narrative, from survival to growth.”
Powell is known for shifting narratives. Throughout her 27-year career as a city manager, she’s helped small communities plagued with recession and population loss find their financial footing, managed multi-million dollar building projects, and helped the nation’s most diverse city (per capita) hold itself together amidst intense racial and ethnic tensions. “Throughout my career, and in my life too, I’ve had to make things happen. I work really well when someone tells me I can’t achieve or do something. My adrenaline goes into overdrive, as I show them I CAN and I WILL.
But at the end of the day it’s all about relationships—they’re the key to everything,” says Powell.
The importance of relationships, and the power of compassion, are the Southern Virginian values she learned as a child growing up in Danville, VA and Providence, NC. Even when she enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school to “see the world”, those small-town values never left her. She recalls her mother, the late Judy Powell, instilling in her the importance of treating people fairly and not judging them based on the color of their skin or the clothes they wear. In a 1997 article for the Fort Meade Leader, Powell’s mother told the reporter “Katrina has great compassion, and she has no patience for people who are prejudiced against anybody, either for their race or because they’re poor. I truly believe she sees the good in everybody.”
Powell steps into the SVHEF executive director role at a pivotal time. The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center continues to find success with its workforce training programs, but it relies on the Foundation to fill funding gaps and to provide scholarships for trainees. “With Katrina’s leadership, the Foundation is positioning itself to be a game-changer for the SVHEC. Increased Foundation support means more citizens will have access to the life-changing educational opportunities delivered by the SVHEC and our partners,” said Dr. Betty Adams, Executive Director of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.
The opportunity to come home to Southern Virginia and to support regional access to education is primarily what attracted Powell to the Foundation. “I’m so happy to be back home and excited to be able to help this community,” she said. Powell is anxious to work with business and community partners throughout the region to support access to educational opportunities at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. “While the Foundation has been in place for decades, we have recently moved from campus landlords to the roots of a higher education foundation’s existence, which is to raise funds for student scholarships, faculty program support, and areas of greatest need within the SVHEC,” said Powell.
Over the coming weeks, Powell will work with the SVHEF board to fine-tune the Foundation’s strategic plan, and to host a “State of the Foundation” kick-off event.
Powell says she has seen communities flourish because of education, and she believes the same thing can happen in southern Virginia. “Education draws business to a community; it’s the key to economic vitality and prosperity. With the right strategic investments, this region can hang its’ hat on providing world-class educational opportunities. This community may have its challenges, but education is an area where we can compete and win,” she said.