Strategic Thinker

Strategic Thinker

Although Hampton University’s Debra S. White did not plan a career in higher education information technology administration, her knack for project management and incisive strategic thinking has made for impressive results at the private historically Black university in Hampton, Va. White became the assistant provost for technology at Hampton in January 1999, and in fall 2000 the school was named a “Most Wired Campus” by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine. It was one of the first historically Black colleges or universities to achieve the coveted distinction.
The Yahoo! recognition, which went to Morehouse College and Tennessee State University at the same time, came more than a year after Hampton had completed an impressive IT makeover that placed wired Internet and cable television connections in the rooms of every student living in campus dormitories. The “drop per pillow” access gave each student high-speed service to the campus network and the Internet.
“I think getting the dormitories wired that year made all the difference with Yahoo!,” White says.
In addition to fully wiring their dormitories, Hampton ranks among the top HBCUs for instituting online distance education courses and degree programs. The school offers two online degree programs, one in nursing and the other in religious studies. Under White’s leadership, Hampton also has joined the exclusive Internet 2 consortium of institutions with links to high performance computing networks, which are the basis for a next generation Internet.   
The school has taken a lead in sponsoring IT conferences for the benefit of neighboring schools in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia and the entire HBCU community. Hampton hosted a digital divide conference for HBCUs in fall 2000 and a computer security conference for neighboring Hampton Roads schools in June 2001. This spring, the school will play host to a national conference on computer security issues, which seeks participation from any American higher education institution.
“We feel that as we make strides as a (higher education) IT leader, we have an obligation to give back to others,” White says.
She is quick to credit Hampton president Dr. William Harvey for providing her with the opportunity and direction to shape IT administration at the university. White, a history major during her college years at the University of Virginia, literally stumbled into a career in high technology after accidentally colliding with an IBM recruiter on campus. The fortuitous meeting led to an internship, and later, a full-time job with the company after college. White originally had planned to be a high school history teacher.
Working as an IBM marketing representative, White got to work with Harvey because Hampton was one of her clients. The association led to a short-term consulting position at Hampton in the early 1990s, and White eventually left the Hampton Roads area to serve as a chief information officer at a Rhode Island boarding school. Not long after White returned to Hampton Roads in the late 1990s, Harvey persuaded her to become Hampton’s first chief information officer with the title of assistant provost for technology.
White also is working on her doctorate in higher education administration from The George Washington University.
— By Ronald Roach



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