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Class of 2024: Craig Rollins Pursues a Career in Higher Education After Learning the Ropes at ODU

After six years at Old Dominion University, four as an undergraduate and two as a graduate student, Maryland native Craig Rollins is moving on with a master’s degree in higher education in his hand and big dreams in his heart.

Recalling his introduction to the University, Rollins said that he was immediately drawn to its sense of community.

“It just felt like a second home to me from the start. And home is very important to me. After I visited, it was like, ‘Bingo. I’ve gotta go there,’” he said.

While at ODU, Rollins held several positions including student assistant intern for the football program, orientation leader for the Office of Student Transitions and Family Programs and resident assistant for the Office of Housing and Residence Life, all of which played a part in leading him to his career choice.

As graduation approaches, Rollins is in the final rounds of interviewing for jobs in diversity, equity and inclusion departments at other universities. He wants to work in a role that allows him to help students accomplish their goals while following in the footsteps of leaders such as Vicki Williams, ODU’s dean of students and associate vice president for engagement.

Further down the road, he envisions himself in a similar position at a large urban university like ODU.

“I want to be the person that people can come talk to. I want to be an advocate and an advisor,” he said. “I also want to help the university with student engagement, planning events and programs that inspire them.”

Rollins said working as a graduate assistant while also taking classes was not without stress, but overall, it was an amazing experience. He credits that to his professors and staff in the higher education department.

“It’s a phenomenal, tight-knit community. They know a bunch of information and they imparted that to me and my classmates,” he said. “I soaked up all this information, these experiences, and all the things that our professors taught us, and I get to carry that forward with me wherever I go next.”

Rollins also built strong relationships with his fellow students.

“There were only six of us in my cohort, so we were close. We really got to you know each other and worked with each other every day. Family is very important to me, and they were like a second family. We checked up on each other,” he said.

“Those things are what made my graduate experiences the best. It was about the people. The 757 will always have a special place in my heart because of the people here at Old Dominion University.”

He remembers that Kim Bullington, adjunct associate professor in Educational Foundations and Leadership, was the first professor to approach him during the first year of the higher education graduate program.

He said meeting her was fortuitous because she proved to be a positive force in his studies.  

“She was the one who kind of pushed and said, ‘Hey, you can do this. You’ve just got to stay focused,’” he recalled.

Based on Bullington’s assessment of Rollins, he will go far in higher education.

 “Craig has served as a positive impact in the higher education program,” Bullington said. “His energy and contributions in class have put him in several leadership positions in course projects. He works hard and it shows. He will be a strong force in the student affairs field.”

Rollins met Dionicia Mahler-Rogers, associate director of Leadership & Learning, in 2017 during Freshman Summer Institute, a leadership program for incoming students, where he first learned of her enthusiasm for helping students find their way socially and academically.

“She’s one of those people who is genuinely passionate about what she does,” he said. “Her leadership course taught me a lot about my personality and my leadership style.” 

While he’s proud of so much of his work as a graduate assistant, two projects in particular stand out to Rollins.

The first one is Roaring Loud, an end-of-the-year festival for students featuring artists, vendors and a DJ. The second was his attendance at the National Association of Campus Activities Conference where he gained knowledge of programming to promote involvement and inclusivity.

In his most recent University position as a graduate assistant for Black Initiatives in the Office of Intercultural Relations, programming for Black History Month was one of his primary tasks.

“That was a great experience for me. Working for Black Initiatives put a bigger weight on my shoulders because I was representing a population of students,” he said. “And it taught me about business because I had to split my leadership duties. I had to wear different hats on different days.”

He added that the experience also afforded him the opportunity to work with other groups including the Black Alumni Council, the Black Student Association and the NAACP.

Given his experience and skills, Mahler-Rogers said Rollins has chosen the right line of business.

“Craig moves through his space with a sense of empathy and a desire to help others. He displays a passion for supporting others, especially the African-American community, pursuing higher education,” she said. “This is evident in his work, in his internships, graduate assistance and student organizations. He is an individual with a big heart and a big motivator to help others. He listens, seeks feedback and intentionally moves forward with a desire to improve the future of education.”

While obtaining a doctorate degree is in his sights, Rollins plans to take a break from school to focus on work for now.

“I really want to expand my experience,” he said. “I do want to expand my education in the future, but I want to spend a couple of years in the job pool to meet different people and spread my wings.”