Winthrop’s 10th president says she’s ready to listen

adouglas@heraldonline.comJuly 1, 2013 

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    Past positions: Director of the Executive Leadership Group, American Council on Education (ACE), Washington, D.C.; provost and vice president for academic affairs, Butler University, Indianapolis; vice president for academic affairs, Millikin University, Decatur, Ill.; vice president and dean of the college, Baker University, Baldwin City, Kan. She also worked at Saint Louis University’s School for Professional Studies and directed the Organizational Communication program and the Center for Leadership Development at the University of West Florida.

    Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from Illinois State University and a doctorate in communication from the University of Arizona.

    Family: Husband Larry A. Williamson, retired Navy captain with experience in university administration and faculty positions. They have a 9-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever named Cocoa.

Jayne Marie Comstock, Winthrop University’s 10th president, took office on Monday morning, telling the campus she’s proud to start the “listening phase” of her tenure.

Comstock and her husband Larry Williamson received a warm welcome around 9 a.m. in the lobby at Tillman Hall.

The couple held hands as they walked on Alumni Drive from their on-campus home to Winthrop’s administrative building.

Walking up the steps to Tillman Hall, she said, overwhelmed her “with a combination of pride and humility to have the honor of leading this remarkable institution.”

Later, in an email, Comstock invited students, faculty and staff to schedule face-to-face meetings with her.

Comstock also made a point of joining the university’s Blue Line Society and the athletic department’s Eagle Club, saying that making a personal financial contribution to each was symbolically important.

“We’re putting our own personal resources in support of this institution and our student athletes,” she said. “That’s one of the first things we wanted to do.”

The Blue Line Society supports the Winthrop University Foundation, with donors giving $1,000 or more annually. Winthrop’s “blue line” is symbolic at the beginning of the academic year during convocation each fall, welcoming freshmen to campus.

The Eagle Club is the Winthrop athletics booster club, supporting the university’s intercollegiate sports teams and scholarships for athletes.

Comstock’s first-day calendar was packed. Morning meetings with the president’s office staff were followed by lunch with vice president for academic affairs Debra Boyd and chemistry professor Cliff Calloway, the outgoing faculty representative to the Board of Trustees.

In the afternoon, she met with educational leadership professor Mark Mitchell to discuss upcoming alumni events and met with students participating in Winthrop’s summer undergraduate research experience program.

Winthrop students have an open invitation to register for 10-minute slots to meet Comstock at the on-campus Starbucks when they start classes this fall.

Similar to retired Winthrop President Anthony DiGiorgio’s open office hours, Comstock will host the “face-time” sessions to allow students to ask questions and voice concerns.

She also plans to maintain a blog on the university’s website – winthrop.edu – to publish her thoughts on higher education issues.

In her first post, titled “Job One on Day One,” Comstock wrote that improving degree attainment will be one of her top priorities at Winthrop.

Access to quality higher education, she wrote, regardless of a person’s socio-economic class, is what matters most. Compared to the rest of the nation, she write, South Carolina falls “behind the curve” in the number of residents with college degrees, and that is unacceptable.

To help more people obtain a college education, Comstock wrote that she wants to strengthen Winthrop’s partnerships with technical and community colleges and local schools.

Using “effective innovations” to deliver academic services to working adult students, she wrote, will not only improve college education attainment rates but also boost Winthrop’s degree completion rates.

Comstock was hired in February by unanimous vote of the school’s Board of Trustees.

DiGiorgio announced his retirement more than a year ago. After 24 years as president, his final day was Sunday.

Comstock and Williamson moved into the on-campus president’s house , last month with their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Cocoa.

The couple is enjoying the home and Cocoa visited Tillman over the weekend as Comstock set up her new office, she said Monday.

Some furniture for their home is still on its way, she said. “It’s like Christmas every day, as something new arrives so it’s very fun.”

Comstock expected her first day to be busy, she said, but not as packed as her schedule will be once students swarm campus in August for convocation and the first day of class on Aug. 20.

Jayne Marie Comstock

Winthrop University’s 10th president

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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