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COLUMBUS, Georgia — To the students, alumni, employees and supporters in Frank G. Lumpkin Jr. Center on Friday, Oct. 20, Columbus State University’s newest president, Dr. Stuart Rayfield, celebrated the legacy of servant leadership and community partnerships that have permeated the institution’s 65-year history. As she outlined during her Presidential Investiture Ceremony remarks, both will play significant roles in her vision for the university’s future.
“Our work is critical, and it will not be easy,” Rayfield explained as she spoke of that vision. “But this institution has punched above its weight class time and time again. We stand on the shoulders of all who have come before us.”
This is Rayfield’s second tenure at Columbus State — the first beginning in 2006 and spanning a decade, when she served as a member of the faculty and as a university administrator. Among those who have continued to influence her since her Columbus State days is president emeritus Dr. Frank Brown, the university’s third president who introduced her during the ceremony. In his introductory remarks, Brown said he looks forward to the unique mark Rayfield will make on the university as its sixth president.
“Dr. Rayfield is one of our own,” Brown said. “She will use our past as prologue, adding her own touch to CSU’s mission. The future of our university is in good hands.”
University System of Georgia Board of Regents Chair Harold Reynolds, in his greetings, honed in on Rayfield’s homecoming and how she values servant leadership.
“We are welcoming [Dr. Rayfield] home. This is the place … where she learned along with her students and took up the challenge of servant leadership,” he said. “While the title of ‘president’ is well deserved, what really matters is that Columbus State is getting a person who will always put her students and this community first. She does this not just because this is her home; she does it because she knows how much it matters.”
USG Chancellor Sonny Perdue (pictured bestowing Rayfield with the presidential medallion) reiterated Rayfield’s reputation for putting students first. He recognized her for creating opportunities for the state’s young people through education and mentoring — whether that be through her previous higher education roles or her new one as president.
“[Education is all about] helping our young people be all they can be. Helping people to grow and learn about their possibilities,” he said. “Columbus State University and all our [26 USG] institutions touch the lives of people where it really counts and helps them add value to themselves to literally perform and be all they dream they can be.
“[President Rayfield] has already made it her top priority to make sure Columbus State University’s degree programs … are relevant to what a student wants to be next, to do next — be it graduate school or to flourish in their careers,” Perdue continued. “It’s also why she’s working with faculty to focus the university’s core curriculum on career competencies like communications, critical thinking, problem-solving and conflict resolution — the skills employers want to see in our graduates.”
Perdue credited Rayfield’s recent leadership as USG’s vice chancellor for leadership and institutional development with creating Georgia’s new statewide direct-admissions program for public colleges and universities. Georgia Match, recently launched by the Governor’s Office, is one of the largest direct-admissions initiatives of its kind in the nation. It is designed to retain Georgia high school graduates while also attracting more of the state’s 44,000-plus high school graduates who historically skip college each year to consider pursuing a college education.
ENVISIONING COLUMBUS STATE’S FUTURE
Cornerstones of Rayfield's vision aligned with Perdue’s remarks and envision a future Columbus State where students “feel challenged in the classroom and understand the value of every course they are asked to take.” She wants Columbus State to be a place where every student graduates with a job offer, acceptance to graduate school, or orders for a military assignment. Most of those alumni, she hopes, will feel compelled to stay in the Chattahoochee Valley to begin their careers, start their families and serve the community.
University employees, in her vision for the future, recognize how their work makes a difference in the lives of its students and their futures. Through their service and commitment, Columbus State — collaborating with partners like the Muscogee County School District and Columbus Technical College — will create a unified educational ecosystem that is the envy of the region as it solves pressing academic and workforce development challenges.
Externally, Columbus State will be a significant catalyst in establishing Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley as an economic powerhouse in the state and region by facilitating economic development, workforce development and population growth. By making education more accessible, Columbus State would in turn lessen the gap between the haves and the have nots, while leading the dialogue around complex societal problems like poverty, hunger, unemployment and homelessness.
“CSU is all of us,” she concluded. “We are better together and can only accomplish this vision as a collective.”
This vision will become the foundation for the university’s current five-year strategic planning effort. Earlier in October, Rayfield commissioned a 27-member committee to begin work on a new strategic plan to replace the current one, which sunsets at the end of 2023. The committee is under the leadership of Shana Young, assistant vice president of leadership and executive director of the Leadership Institute, and includes students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and community partners.
CELEBRATING A SIGNIFICANT UNIVERSITY MILESTONE
For most students — and even many university employees — a presidential investiture ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience first-hand the installation of new university leadership. The Oct. 20 ceremony included all the traditional pomp and circumstance typically part of the university’s frequent commencement exercises: faculty in regalia, performances by student musicians from the Schwob School of Music, and remarks by academic leaders.
Central to a presidential investiture ceremony, however, is formally installing a new president. The presidency is traditionally marked by two outward, universal symbols: the university mace and the presidential medallion (pictured) — both of which Perdue bestowed on Rayfield during the ceremony. First used in Brown’s 1988 inauguration, the mace and medallion were commissioned by the Columbus State University Foundation and designed and constructed by then-professor of art Jamie Howard.
The mace is constructed of rosewood, Bastogne walnut and sterling silver. At formal university events like investitures and commencement, it is carried into the ceremony by a mace bearer, who is specially selected from the university’s faculty. The medallion, augmented in 2012 with a chain and bronze border reflective of the university seal, is worn by the president with her academic regalia at commencement and other ceremonial occasions. It bears symbols shared with the university’s seal, and the central part of the medallion also includes a representation of the Tree of Knowledge.
Also different from graduation ceremonies, a presidential investiture includes delegates from other colleges and universities who attend to show their support for the newly installed president. More than 25 delegates were present — most from sibling University System of Georgia institutions, but others representing public and private institutions in both Georgia and Alabama.
Another element common to presidential investiture ceremonies are individuals specially selected to bring greetings to the president at his or her installation. These included Maj. Gen. Curtis A. Buzzard (pictured), commanding general of the nearby U.S. Army Maneuver Center for Excellence and Fort Moore, who underscored the importance of the ever-evolving relationship between the post and the university. He credited Rayfield as being “wholly committed to our soldiers and their families, veterans and to our mission at Fort Moore …. We are proud to be a steadfast partner as both our organizations continue to transform and meet the challenges of the future.”
U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop, whose scheduled in-person remarks were interrupted due to Congressional obligations, said to Rayfield in a video message, “Your academic preparation and your higher education experience … demonstrate your mettle to the Board of Regents. They have chosen well.”
In addition to Bishop and Buzzard, the group included Columbus Mayor Pro Temp Gary Allen ’79, who presented Rayfield with a key to the city.
“[This key] is the key to the hearts of the 206,962 residents of Columbus, and also the key to the hearts of all the alumni of Columbus College and Columbus State University who serve us so well,” Allen told Rayfield. “We are here to work with you and support you.”
Others bringing greetings included Georgia House District 139 State Representative Vance Smith ’74; Student Government Association President Adrian Peterson; Staff Council Chair Lauren Cantrell ’15; Faculty Senate Executive Officer Libby McFalls; CSU Alumni Association President Twilya Toombs ’05; CSU Foundation Board Chair Tim Money ’86; and Dr. C. Thomas Hopkins Jr., the USG regent who chaired the Presidential Search & Screen Committee that ultimately recommended Rayfield to the Board of Regents to be president.
ABOUT PRESIDENT RAYFIELD
Named Columbus State’s sixth president by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia on March 9, 2023, Rayfield began her official tenure on June 1, 2023. She is the first female president to lead the university, and it was her mother, Barbara Eddings, she credited with providing the foundation for her to assume the helm at Columbus State.
“I am profoundly thankful for the women who have gone before me in leadership roles, but it was my mom who showed me the way to lead with compassion and humility,” Rayfield said, citing her mother’s experience as a small-business owner and her family’s sole provider after Rayfield’s father, Jimmy, passed away while she was in college. “You will find no finer woman than my mom.”
An Alabama native, Rayfield earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She then earned a master’s in higher education administration focused on student affairs from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa before earning a doctorate in higher education administration focused on leadership, policy and organizations from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Her original tenure at Columbus State began in 2006 as an assistant professor, later holding the Frank D. Brown Distinguished Chair in Servant Leadership. Along with teaching, she directed the Servant Leadership Program, co-led the SACSCOC reaffirmation of accreditation, and co-developed the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program, Servant Leadership track in the D. Abbott Turner College of Business & Technology. In 2015, she was also named interim associate provost for undergraduate education.
A year later, she accepted the role as interim president of the former Bainbridge State College, where she co-led the college’s consolidation with Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. She then immediately stepped into the role of interim president of Gordon State College, leading the college’s transition to new leadership.
In July 2018, Rayfield was named the University System of Georgia’s vice chancellor for leadership and institutional development — stepping away only briefly in late 2019 to serve as the interim president of the University of West Georgia. In 2022, she served as interim executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, overseeing the university system’s entire academic enterprise. As vice chancellor for leadership and institutional development, President Rayfield led support for USG’s 26 public colleges and universities as well as the University System Office in areas that include management, leadership transitions, and training and orientation.
Before her service to the University System of Georgia, she held positions at Auburn University, Vanderbilt University, Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro), and the University of Alabama.
Rayfield (pictured with her family) is married to David Rayfield, a partner at the law firm Waldrep, Mullin & Callahan LLC in Columbus, and a graduate of Rhodes College and the University of Alabama. Together, they have two daughters: Vivian, a freshman at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Celia, a junior at Columbus High School.