The morning after his trip to Houston, Tennessee native Richard Walker’s southern twang was already back in full swing. The associate vice president for student affairs is back in Miami until Sept. 2, when he will head back to Texas to begin his new positions as vice president for student affairs at the University of Houston and vice chancellor for student affairs for the UH system.
“University of Houston just got tier-one research status, and it’s only the third in Texas to reach that,” Walker said. “To be able to join a senior leadership staff with the changes going on … it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
Walker, who started his 25th year at UM this June, says that it has always been his dream to be the vice president for student affairs of a university. He finished his Doctorate of Education in 2009 and has “selectively” been looking for a while.
“And at that point I knew that to reach my career goal I was probably going to have to leave,” he said. “Dr. Whitely has been here for a long time and she ain’t gonna leave.”
It was Walker who started the plans to renovate the UC back in 2003. Ironically, he’s leaving UM just as the plans are finally being put into effect, and also just as the University of Houston gears up to begin planning for their own new university center.
“This is bittersweet … If I’m leaving, I’ve seen it at least to the point that it’s happening,” he said. “Dr. Whitely said she’s going to invite me back for the opening of 2013. I feel good leaving after eight years of planning. I’m excited to see it’s gotten off of the ground.”
After a quarter of a decade, it is obvious that there is something that has kept the jubilant Walker here for so long.
“It’s been great,” he said. What has kept me here is the students. Academically they’re right, they’re very involved; they really do bleed orange and green. And as well as the staff. I’ve had wonderful colleagues that I’ve worked with across the institution. That’s really what kept me.”
Of all the students that have passed through his door over the years, there is one in particular who has been with Walker since the beginning.
“I met him my first week of school here. He was the Greek advisor and I joined a sorority. He was a phenomenal mentor. Through the years it’s been really neat to have someone who was your mentor to become a really good friend and a college,” said Allison Gillespie, who is currently director of student events.
Walker has left his mark on UM in more ways than just the tangible UC.
“I’ve known him for over half my life. He’s somebody who’s always thoughtful, in kindness and actions and decisions he makes. One of the many great things about him is that he believes in people and often sees the potential in someone that they don’t see in themselves. He’s confident enough in himself to let people make mistakes,” she said.
While he’s excited for the move, Walker will also miss the university where he has been for so long.
“It’s bittersweet to leave a place you’ve been so long. But it’s exiting to make this significant change. Uprooting your life and moving to this new city. It’s exciting to make this new move in my career. But I will always be a Miami Hurricane. I have my Ph.D. from UM and I’ll always bleed orange and green,” Walker said.
Dr. Whitely will begin the search for Walker’s replacement this fall.
“As cliché as it is, our loss is definitely University of Houston’s gain. They better get ready, They have no idea what they have coming. It’s a great, positive thing and it’s definitely going to change that place,” Gillespie said.