Higher-ed center’s new boss has big plans

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“We’re in the business of helping workers be the best they can
be,” says Kay Dunkley. Photo by Don Petersen

It’s as if Kay Dunkley’s career was designed to lead her to the job she started in January – executive director of the Roanoke Higher Education Center.

Dunkley worked in public schools, in Virginia’s community college system and at Virginia Tech. Since 2011, she’s overseen Tech’s graduate and continuing education programs in Roanoke.

“Certainly when you supervise faculty and you oversee programs and you work with advisory committees to develop curriculum, that certainly plays hand-in-glove with the job that I have now,” Dunkley says.

“As a dean of workforce development, you’re always visiting with businesses and industries to listen to what their training needs are, and then you go back to your campus. You find the people to teach it, and then you go and implement it,” she says. “I really think this job is the culmination of what I’ve done in the past.”

Dunkley leads an education facility that hosts programs from 14 universities and other organizations, employs more than 300 people and has an annual economic impact of $32 million. The impact of the nearly 10,000 degrees, certificates and training programs the center’s students have completed is even greater.

“We’re talking about degrees and certificates and endorsements that will not only allow citizens to acquire jobs, but also will assist with upward mobility,” Dunkley says. “We’re in the business of helping workers be the best they can be.”

At the top of Dunkley’s list of things to do is making people more aware of the education center in former Norfolk & Western offices in downtown Roanoke.

Dunkley plans to meet in April with a new advisory committee of business, industry and government leaders to hear what the center can do better and what skill gaps it can help fill. Dunkley hopes to work more closely with Virginia’s other higher-ed centers, too.

“We feel we are colleagues, and we can share best practices, and we can get together on a routine basis,” Dunkley says. At those sessions, center leaders can “talk about issues and challenges, and talk about how we can work together to better partner to serve all the citizens of the commonwealth, not just within our geographic areas.

“We’ve got to think outside the box,” she says.

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