In conversation with Dr. Jack Thomas, the new president of Central State University

Dr. Jack Thomas is the new president of Central State University. He takes office amid a pandemic that is negatively impacting college performance and morale across the country. But he tells Jason Reynolds of WYSO that With these problems come great opportunities as the campus prepares to reopen.

DR. THOMAS: We will bring individuals face-to-face as well as online. As a university, this has helped steer us to where we need to be anyway in terms of online courses. So it will be different, but at the same time, we need to stay focused on the mission of this university, which is to provide quality and comprehensive education to our students.

J.REYNOLDS: Thus, Central State is a Land Grant Institute. Can you tell us what that means and maybe a bit of history?

DR. THOMAS: Well, Central State University is the only 1890 Institution of land grant in the state of Ohio. It is the only historically black public university in the state of Ohio. The history of the 1890 Land Grant Institutions is to provide education, especially for minorities because minorities have not had the same kinds of opportunities. If it weren’t for the 1890s and historically black institutions, education would only be for the rich and famous.

REYNOLDS: So what, personally, made you decide to accept this offer? What excites you about Central State and what do you expect to build in college?

DR. THOMAS: Well, I was a first-generation student myself, and many of the students we serve are first-generation students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, like me. And if it hadn’t been for a Central State University or an Alabama A&M or a Virginia State, which are also from the 1890s, I wouldn’t be here as president today. So when you leave a HBCUs or a land-grant institution of 1890, you should be able to go out and function and do well in society, as I did and as many of my predecessors did. We are simply delighted with our mission. It’s a good university, and as a seasoned leader, I want to help make it a great university.

REYNOLDS: So how do you make it a great university? I know that the college experience is more than just textbooks and grades. Students want to get out there and make a difference in the real world. So, as the head of an HBCU, right now, how do you think Central prepares students to thrive?

DR. THOMAS: Let me say first that it has to do with the strategic plan. We will do marketing. We want to increase our registrations. We want to create a specialized college. We want to attract the best and brightest students while maintaining our mission and doing targeted enrollment. We want to improve our retention and graduation rates. They are not where we want them to be. And then, as the Land Grant Mission of the 1890s, we want to look at university programs that we believe will be cutting edge. We already have unique programs, like water research management, engineering, etc., agriculture, food science, and that sort of thing.

REYNOLDS: What did we miss? What should WYSO have asked the ninth president of Central State University?

DR. THOMAS: I will just tell you that you will hear about Central State University as a premier institute that focuses on teaching, research, and service. And we will produce the best and brightest students who come from Central State University and who will leave an indelible mark on society early in their careers.

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