The New College Institute (NCI) expressed a heartfelt goodbye to Interim Executive Director Karen R. Jackson during a board meeting on June 24 and has begun the search for its fifth executive director.
State Sen. William M. Stanley, Jr. and others praised Jackson for her multiple accomplishments, leadership, and vision for the past three years, during which time she created numerous programs and initiatives; forged new partnerships that will carry NCI into the next decade; and captained NCI through the unprecedented COVID global pandemic, revising standard operating procedures along the way.
“When I asked Secretary Jackson to join NCI as our Interim Director in 2019, I knew that we were getting an experienced hand in effectively navigating a state agency like ours. Karen exceeded every expectation I had for her leadership over the course of her tenure at NCI, and she has taken this Institute to the next level in providing unique education experiences and opportunities for our students, as well as being a leader in certification training for emerging technology industries,” said Stanley, R-Moneta. He also is chairman of the NCI Board.
“Karen Jackson has also been an amazing partner in working with our state government agencies and the General Assembly in solidifying NCI’s permanent position as an integral part of Virginia’s delivery system of higher education to its citizens. Her hard work and dedication have left a lasting and permanent impression on the future of the New College Institute, and her tireless efforts will never be forgotten. Southside Virginia is eternally grateful for her service,” he added.
Before her time at NCI, Jackson served in the McAuliffe, Kaine and McDonnell administrations; had been the leader in the Virginia advancement of Internet Technology, Cyber, broadband access in rural and underserved areas; and was an integral part of Virginia’s effort to land Amazon’s HQ2. Jackson, a native of Poquoson, VA, is the President of Apogee Strategic Partners, LLC, a company focused on providing technology consulting and advisory services to companies, universities, governmental entities, and non-profits, specializing in technology and business strategy, government relations, public policy, business development, and program management. Jackson was elected board chairman of Unmanned Systems Association of Virginia in 2020.
Under Jackson’s leadership, NCI underwent a marketing rebrand of its logo and related collateral, as well as the creation and implementation of a more attractive, informative, and user-friendly website. She made staff additions that have produced long term employees dedicated to NCI’s mission to serve the southwestern region. Additionally, Jackson developed public relations strategies, as well as created and renewed relationships with technology and community organizations to further promote NCI’s vision and mission.
The partnerships with Siemens Gamesa, Dominion Energy, and the Global Wind Organisation (GWO) brought GWO-certified trainings to NCI’s ultramodern innovation center in Martinsville, making NCI the first in Virginia to invest in and earn certification from GWO. NCI is also one of the few training facilities across North America to offer both GWO Basic Safety and Basic Technical Training. Through Jackson’s vision and determination, Virginia is a leader in wind industry training, and NCI is one of Virginia’s leading wind energy training facilities. Other training opportunities include OSHA, Certified Production Technician, Metrology, and CNC Operator Training.
Jackson was instrumental in coordinating a way for the community to take advantage of NCI’s first-class training equipment through the creation of an OpenLAB experience, making much of the innovation center training equipment now available to the public.
Jackson created and reinforced valuable partnerships with Virginia colleges and universities, such as Old Dominion University’s Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship; The University of Virginia’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies; Bluefield College’s Counselor Education Degree program; and Radford University Master of Science in Strategic Communication – bringing more programs to NCI, which provide more higher education opportunities for Southwest VA.
Additionally, during Jackson’s leadership, Amazon Web Services Training (AWS) launched in the fall of 2020, offering cloud computing skills development and job training. AWS Re/start at NCI received 950 applications from across the country and graduated 98 students from the intense program. Domain-U was launched to deliver online trainings in math and basic measuring tools. NCI also became an FAA-approved Test Administrator for The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST), which provides an online course and completion certificate for owners of recreational drones.
Jackson secured nearly $3 million in grants and additional funds to fuel multiple training and educational initiatives. One of which was from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation to research the development of healthcare programs that will educate and train individuals to fill in-demand positions while simultaneously strengthening the healthcare workforce in southern Virginia and across the Commonwealth.
With Jackson at the helm, NCI’s Southside Telehealth Training Academy and Resource Center (STAR) registrations increased more than 100% and trained 9,322 participants from more than 40 states and countries.
Much of NCI’s current K12 programming began with Karen Jackson, including CyberPatriot CyberCamp, Health Camps, Summer STEM handouts through Pop-Up Summer Camps. She also enthusiastically supported NCI’s winning FIRST Robotics team, the “STAGS.”
Jackson’s dedication to COVID recovery allowed for quick and successful re-opening of The Baldwin Building for community events hosted by NCI, NCI partners and private facility rentals. Since reopening, NCI has welcomed more than 10,000 visitors to the building.
During the pandemic Jackson shared COVID resources by relaying pertinent information to the community via the NCI website; and partnered with Piedmont Community services and Canon Virginia, Inc. to create and donate face shields to essential workers in the community. In the absence of live motorsports, Karen initiated an eSports program that brought Martinsville native and iRacing driver Josh Williams as an eSports program coordinator, engaging students of all ages in eSports competition and related careers in the STEM disciplines.
Rotating Smithsonian SITES exhibits are now on display at The Baldwin Building. Vytal Studios will be creating several virtual and augmented reality experiences to NCI. Patrick & Henry Community College and NCI will partner to develop computer science training made possible by a Google Investment.
While the search for a new Executive Director is underway, the board has appointed NCI Assistant Director of Finance & Operations, Christina Reed, to serve as acting Interim Executive Director.
“I am honored that the Board would appoint me during this transition. I thank Karen Jackson for all of the ‘out of the box’ programming through COVID and the mentor and leadership that she provided me during her tenure at NCI. As a first-generation college graduate myself, I believe in higher education and the need for accessibility and affordability for the citizens in our region. I am excited to assist the Board in their search for a permanent Executive Director and the continued future progression of NCI,” Reed said.
Reed joined NCI in 2011 after working for The Harvest Foundation for seven years. Reed’s role with NCI started with a focus on needs surrounding accounting and finances, but she also brings experience in various areas of operations and strong relationships with NCI partners. Reed earned her Associates degree from Patrick Henry Community College and a BS in Accounting from Averett University. In addition, she has completed several continuing education courses and various other trainings and leadership programs. Her long-term relationship with the New College Foundation, more than a decade of state service, and existing relationships with NCI partners are among the list of the traits that make Reed a strong leader who is committed to continuing NCI’s mission and service to our community.