Michelle Howard-Vital, PhD
Executive Vice President & Provost
Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital has currently accepted the position of executive vice president and provost at Florida Memorial University to work with a team of professionals committed to improving higher education for the next generational of leaders. She has previously served as a Senior Fellow for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and she is a member of the College Registry for College Presidents offering her services in transition times for colleges and universities.
Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital is also the former President of Cheyney University (2007-2014), Interim Chancellor of Winston-Salem State University (2006-2007), Associate Vice President for the University of North Carolina System at its General Administration in Chapel Hill (2003-2006), and Vice Chancellor for Public Service /Associate Provost at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (1993-2003).
Michelle Howard-Vital was born and educated in Chicago, Illinois. She earned her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Language and her Masters of Arts in Teaching English from the University of Chicago, and earned her doctorate in Public Policy Analysis from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Howard-Vital has over 30 years of experience in various roles in higher education, and she has worked in three states—Illinois, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. When starting as an English instructor and director of College Without Walls at Central YMCA Community College, at the age of 22, she proclaimed, “I cannot believe they are paying me so much–$10,000–to have so much fun.”
In addition to the positions stated previously, Dr. Howard-Vital served in a range of positions in higher education, including: Coordinator of the Biomedical Sciences Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dean of Continuing Education at Harold Washington College, Dean of Continuing Education and Non-Traditional Degree Programs at Chicago State University, Associate Vice President for Academic Programs and Dean of University College at Edinboro University, and English Instructor at Central YMCA Community College. Dr. Howard-Vital has been tenured twice–at the community college level and at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington where she earned the rank of tenured professor. Further, she served as a member of the State Board of Education for the State of North Carolina from 2001-2007. Moreover, she successfully led two institutions to reaffirmation of accreditation granted by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Dr. Howard-Vital started her presidency in 2007 at a Historically Black institution that helped to transform the lives of many students. In spite of the institution’s deferred maintenance and public image of “struggling,” Dr. Howard-Vital recognized its past impact and its potential for underserved communities. Under her leadership, the university’s image improved with unprecedented publications and advertising to promote the institution’s impressive accomplishments to the public and stakeholders. Moreover, the Keystone Honor’s Program was enhanced and public forums with renown speakers such as Dr. Maya Angelou, Director Spike Lee, Dr. Cornel West, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Alice Walker, Mrs. Harriet Fulbright (Fulbright Scholars) and Scholar Angela Davis–to name a few–were highlighted to engage the community in academic dialogue. Former President Bill Clinton also visited the campus and interacted with students and community leaders.
With the support of the Board of Governors, the leadership of local legislators, and senior staff, Dr. Howard-Vital was able to secure funding for a new, 400-bed student residence hall—the first such new structure in over 30 years. In addition, funding was secured for a new cutting-edge science building—the first new academic building in about thirty years—and capital developments such as the reconstruction of the first building on campus into an honors residence and lecture hall, the renovation of the Marian Anderson Music Hall, the addition of a professional-grade graphic arts lab, professionalization of the campus security department, the reconstruction of a wastewater treatment plant for the campus and surrounding community, and many other needed infrastructure upgrades. Cheyney University also became an “All Steinway school” in 2013.
Because of her focus on students, Dr. Howard-Vital would regularly walk the Cheyney University campus and greet students, engage in town hall conversations with all students, host Cabinet-to-Cabinet sessions with the student government association to understand students’ concerns and problems. With improvements in student facilities, common areas, and much-needed redecoration or replacement of aging residence halls, student satisfaction improved. Dr. Howard-Vital also initiated the development of a University College program to help retain and increase students’ progress towards graduation. After a successful reaffirmation of accreditation from the Middles States Association and change in system leadership, Dr. Howard-Vital retired from the presidency to return home to North Carolina.
Because she believes that many have helped in her career, Dr. Howard-Vital believes in honoring her supporters by “paying it forward” in the form of contributions to scholarship funds and volunteer work with organizations like the Professional Women’s Organization of LaRabida Hospital, The American Red Cross, The Links, Inc., and others. She and her husband, Geri R. Vital, still maintain scholarships at Cheyney University in their name and in the name of the late Dolores E. Howard (her mother, a career nurse in Chicago).
Dr. Howard-Vital has co-authored a text, and she has authored or co-authored book chapters, articles, reviews, and various professional papers. Some of the titles of her works include, “Entrepreneurship Education: A Cautious Ray of Hope in Instructional Reform for Disadvantaged Youth” (Rasheed & Howard-Vital, 2006); “Listening to Students: The Appeal of For-Profit Institutions” (2006); “Structuring a Supportive Environment for Women in Higher Education” (2006); and “Precollege Bridge Programs: Lessons learned in preparing students to pursue study and careers in the health sciences” (2007). Dr. Howard-Vital is a frequent blogger, and has published numerous articles in electronic journals, as well. (Her blog site is michellehowardvital-phd.com).
Dr. Howard-Vital has received numerous awards and recognitions for her service in higher education, including: The Women of Distinction Award by the Philadelphia Business Journal (2012); the Women Cultivating Women Award in honor of Mary McLeod Bethune (2010); the Association for Black Women in Higher Education Award for Leadership for founding its Chicago Chapter (2002); the Million Dollar Club Award for her grants at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (2001); being recognized by the University of Chicago as one of its outstanding graduates; and being given the Distinguished Alumni Award, by the University of Illinois for her contributions to education in the areas of scholarship, teaching, service, and administration (2000). The acknowledgement of service she appreciates most are the letters, cards, and emails of gratitude from former students at the institutions where she has worked or taught.
Dr. Howard-Vital’s pastimes include reading, posting inspirational blogs, gardening, traveling, interior design, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and stepson. Her husband, Geri R. Vital, is a professional graphic designer, former faculty member teaching speech and graphic design, and founder of the Collegiate 100 Chapter of the 100 Black Men at Cheyney University. She and her husband enjoy traveling, home renovation, and social events with family and friends. Their daughter, Madelyn Vital, has a master’s degree in environmental policy and law and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) focusing on environmental law. The son, Gabriel, has a computer science degree and master’s degree in human resources.
Education is a continuous life long process that eludes no one individual. Education should be the foundation of everyone’s existence. Although everyone can and will learn to some degree, the process of imparting knowledge to others is a task that few have the natural capacity to perform. The issue about the quality of education in this country has and continues to be debated. Until we understand the significance of pedagogy and the profession from which it is rooted, this debate will continue to rage on. The status and quality of teaching have been scrutinized from many perspectives. Understanding the epistemology of teaching and learning, including how to teach, what to teach, and when to teach, while accepting professional responsibility for working with students who represent the full range of diversity is essential to teaching and learning. Teaching professionals need to recognize the changing nature of today’s society, they need to provide learners with the knowledge and skills associated with a multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural perspective of the educational process.
By embracing a paradigm shift of diversity among students, including African-Americans and other minorities, instructors of institutions of higher education need to strike a healthy balance between traditional and nontraditional approaches to determine mastery of learning. Mastery of any information should not be limited to the traditional podium lecturing and paper-and-pencil assessments. Innovative methods of teaching and learning rooted in research that take into account the diversity of student intellectual abilities, are paramount to the success of these individuals. Students from the dominant culture have been trained to be successful at the traditional ways of teaching and evaluating, but many others have not. To continue to force minority students to fit into a mole that does not value their unique styles of learning is detrimental to any society. My theory of education embraces and understanding of diversity, not just in ethnicity but also in learning. By embodying such a philosophy, one can only help but to maximize the amount of knowledge and skills that anyone can consume.
Dr. Denise Callwood-Braithwaite, Associate Provost