Crossing the Mighty Mississippi and racial and gender barriers

(09-07-2016)

Gilmer carries the torch for academic inclusion to Adams State

Article by Linda Relyea

Dr. Chris Gilmer in his ASU VPAA Office

From the humid and hot Mississippi Delta to the Rio Grande Land of Cool Sunshine, Dr. Chris Gilmer brings a wealth of experience, expertise and innovation to his recently accepted position as the Adams State University Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Since July, when first arriving on campus, Gilmer has a favorable impression of his new environment. "I enjoy my colleagues and my students very much. Everyone is extremely student-centered."

He comes to Adams State from Alcorn State University, Vicksburg Campus, where he served as Executive Director of the campus, Director of Online Education for the three-campus system, and Professor of English. He was also the chief operating officer of the Vicksburg Campus and a system-wide administrator working to enhance student success and to close achievement gaps for first-generation and other historically-underserved students.

"As a first-generation college student myself, I understand the importance of building a culture of higher education within a family and I understand the economic security a college degree can bring to an individual and for the whole family," Gilmer said. He values the many sacrifices his parents and grandparents made to create opportunities for him, and he tries to pay it forward. A lifetime Mississippian prior to his recent move, Gilmer has followed in his mother's footsteps and advocated for racial and gender equality and for safety and equity for LGBTQ people, especially in rural geographical areas.

HBCU to HSI

Alcorn State is the oldest public land grant Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in America. Adams State is the first Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Gilmer has served. "Adams State is the oldest HSI in Colorado and we are fully committed to fulfilling our mission to all students, especially those who have encountered extra challenges along the way."

Although Gilmer was content and happy at Alcorn State University, he saw an "opportunity to grow" at Adams State. "Adams State was a deliberate choice because of its attention to equity and inclusion in a rural setting serving historically underserved students. I appreciated an opportunity to work at a place where my skill set might be useful to the mission and agenda of this specific institution."

Before serving at Alcorn State University, while working at Walden University in Minneapolis, Minn., Gilmer served on the provost's accreditation team and co-chaired the subcommittee on mission. Walden received a 10-year reaffirmation from the Higher Learning Commission, and he has been active in reaccreditation efforts at two other institutions.

In both the short-term and the long-term, Gilmer and his team will focus on Adams State's Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation. "The president and I take very seriously the importance of accreditation and are working closely with all departments on campus to properly prepare for the HLC visit and to maintain our accreditation."

Extensive knowledge and experience

Currently the lead author of a textbook integrating the teaching of reading and writing at the college level, one of the most promising pedagogical advances in developmental education, Gilmer is an expert in developmental education, particularly as it applies to first-generation, historically-underserved, and underprepared students. He will apply this knowledge to Adams State's developmental education curriculum. "I want to make sure Adams State's curriculum utilizes all available assets for students." He also supports the Essential Learning Task Force's general education program review and is excited that it is being conducted through the "lens of equity and inclusion." He believes Adams State has the chance to be a national role model for other institutions by taking this innovative approach.

Gilmer expanded the Research Alliance on Improving Schools in Mississippi—a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Education, Florida State University, five rural school districts, area universities, and other partners to serve as a bridge to higher education for first-generation, minority, and other historically-underserved students.

Although the two regions served by Alcorn and Adams differ greatly in geography and environmental conditions – they both share a challenge of isolation and economic struggle within the demographics of their location. Gilmer understands the challenges rural school districts face and will reach out across the San Luis Valley to support superintendents, principals and public school teachers as they work toward improving preparation for students interested in a college education.

Challenges facing many higher education institutions across the nation include diminishing resources from state and federal levels as well as a trend among parents and students to question the importance of a college education. "Adams State provides an education focused on the student's need to succeed in the workplace and graduate school. A higher education degree leads to more earning potential and more economic power and security for families."

Gilmer will work with all the members of the president's executive team and the campus community to diversify funding streams. He has experience acquiring grants including leading teams that secured $75 million in competitive grants. Gilmer and Adams State President Beverlee McClure have plans to establish the National Center for Historically Underserved Students, a nationwide effort to provide additional resources across all historically underserved populations and to further establish Adams State as a servant leader among universities nationwide. "This is still in the planning stages, and we are excited to convene the first national think tank in November."

Prior to and concurrent with his work at Alcorn, Gilmer chaired the Department of Undergraduate Writing in Walden University's College of Undergraduate Studies. He also has experience as a tenured faculty member, faculty development director, departmental chair, and senior grant writer within the HBCU system.

Gilmer believes Adams State's "extremely well-qualified and highly committed" faculty and staff will mean continued success for students and the institution. "As long as their commitment is here, our excellent service to students and the community will always be here. Adams State is not a tier-one research or private university. We are a public teaching university with faculty and staff who understand that role and are committed to it."

Gilmer's private sector leadership includes serving as president of his own successful consulting firm and a senior consultant to the U.S. Department of Education's Comprehensive Center and Regional Educational Lab networks providing training and technical assistance nationwide. He served as the inaugural chair of a national network of technical assistance centers for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) serving all states and U.S. jurisdictions with 200 employees and a $25 million budget.

Remembering and offering advice

Throughout his education and academic career, Gilmer appreciated the mentors who took the time to encourage and support him. He continues to follow the advice of a respected mentor who said: "Never let one person form your opinion of someone else. Everyone forms an opinion of everyone we meet. The key is to keep an open mind, to always expect the best from people, and to form your own opinion and give others space to form their own opinion of you. Trust is something you must earn."

Gilmer's scholarly and creative agenda includes publication of nonfiction alongside Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winners and children's literature. Gilmer believes Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a good inspirational read for students. "More than anything, Jonathan wanted to soar and everyone told him his wings were not meant for soaring. I encourage students to read this short book. The metaphor is really obvious: all students can soar, contrary to any image someone might try to impose on them."

The first in his family to attend college and graduate with a higher education degree, Gilmer earned a Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi; a master's degree from Mississippi College; and a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi.