When Abbey Zink and her husband John visited Slippery Rock in March during spring break, they found a house to move into when she would transition into her new job as SRU’s provost, a find that Dr. Zink considers lucky. Then colleges nationwide began to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
While visiting Pennsylvania, she was informed that she and her husband would need to self-quarantine for 14 days once they returned to their home in Houston.
After completing her former job in Houston virtually, she then moved into her next role as SRU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs in June.
“It’s been an interesting experience to finish that job that I absolutely loved via Zoom and to start a new job that I absolutely love,” Zink said.
The former dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Sam Houston State University was ready for the next step. After serving as a dean between three colleges since August 2010 at West Connecticut State University, Texas A&M University-Kingsville and most recently Sam Houston State University, she applied for one of the highest-ranked administrative positions at SRU.
As a West Virginia native who spent the last eight years in Texas, Zink said that SRU’s location and size were factors in her application to the position, which opened when Philip Way left the university last year to become president of Athens State University in Georgia.
As part of her interview process, she presented at SRU about non-traditional students at college campuses. Zink, whose brother attended a degree completion program himself, said that non-traditional students may be looking for different types of course offerings and course delivery methods, such as online classes.
“I think there are a lot of people out there who have 30 to 60, maybe more credits who want to finish their degrees, and how can we help them as an institution?” Zink said. “Our region needs more college-educated citizens for economic growth and for civic growth.”
Zink added that diversity and inclusion efforts were another passion of hers, as she oversaw the implementation of a “Diversity Read” program and the creation of a diversity and inclusion committee within her college at Sam Houston.
While Zink began her transition to SRU in March and started to build working relationships, one of her goals this semester is to continue working with deans and administration to work through this unprecedented semester.
“In many ways, we’re all piloting the fall semester, and I mean that across the country,” Zink said. “We never had a semester like this. We’re going to do some things really well and there are other things we’re going to see that we need to tweak, but I’ve been so impressed so far with our faculty and with our students and the resilience of the students.”
With a bachelor’s in journalism from Marshall University and a master’s and a doctorate in English from Marshall and Northern Illinois University, respectively, Zink’s humanities background contributed to her former leadership roles. However, she argues her experience in the humanities is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis.
“When I’m looking at an educational situation… I think about it from the perspective of the student, what it’s like to be a student, what it’s like to be a faculty member in that situation, what it’s like quite honestly to send your kids to university in COVID-19 [and] what it’s like to be a support staff member on campus,” Zink said. “[I] think about all those people and how we can help them support what they do, interact together in good ways that continue that sense of community.”