Virginia Tech's Dean Of Students To Retire

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 30, 2003 – After 24 years at Virginia Tech, Barbara Pendergrass will retire on June 1. She has served as dean of students since 1998.

"I don't think I have ever worked with anyone who cared more about students and who was more effective in working with them. I'm going to miss her wit, her wisdom, and her extraordinary contribution to the Division of Student Affairs," said Lanny Cross, vice president for student affairs.

Cross's sentiments are echoed by people who work for Pendergrass. "For all of us in the Dean of Students Office, working with -- not for -- her has been the highlight of our careers. Barbara has a unique leadership style that fosters teamwork unlike anything any of us have experienced. She believes in 'collective wisdom' and always includes all staff viewpoints in decision making for the office. Every voice is both included and heard. All of us are hopeful that her unwavering commitment to all people and consistent treatment for all students will continue to be a guiding force in our work," said Tom Brown, associate dean of students.

As dean of students, Pendergrass has made a difference in attitudes, bringing visibility to the needs of different minority communities on campus and affirming their value and importance to the university. "I wanted them to know that they are welcome at the table," she said, adding, "Anything that was inclusive was very meaningful to me as well as seeing students grow, seeing students take action to accomplish something."

Her legacy includes a number of initiatives that originated in her office; Safe Zones which are areas on campus where the gay community can feel safe and connected to the university; Comfort Zones which are areas where any member of the campus community can feel accepted; the annual Diversity Summit; the Diversity Roundtable; and Multicultural Fellows, a program that provides faculty and staff members with an opportunity to help the university focus on the value of diversity by bringing people together who wouldn't ordinarily have a chance to interact and providing them the opportunity to share ideas.

However the initiative that seems to give Pendergrass the most pride is Student Voices, a think-tank of students from diverse backgrounds that meets every other week. The 15 students who comprise this group helped redraft the religious holiday policy as it relates to class attendance, they have looked at the policy affecting campus climate and have defined what constitutes sexual harassment and university commissions have turned to them for feedback on particular issues.

Pendergrass obtained a master's degree in guidance and counseling with a concentration in mental health from Fort Valley State College in South Caroline before becoming a counselor, financial aid officer, and veteran affairs officer at a community college in Florida.

She moved to Blacksburg in 1979 to work as a counselor for minority students and as a staff counselor at Virginia Tech while attending school part-time. She earned a doctorate in counselor education at Tech in 1987.

Two years later she was named assistant to the vice president for student affairs. She moved to the dean of students' office in 1995 as associate dean of students and worked in that position until 1998, when she was named dean of students.

Pendergrass now plans to move back to her hometown of Kingstree, S.C. and work with the youth in that area.