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In Memoriam: Dr. Zenobia Lawrence Hikes


BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 27, 2008 – Vice President for Student Affairs Zenobia Lawrence Hikes, whose strength and leadership helped unite the Virginia Tech community -- most notably in the hours and days following the tragic events of April 16, 2007, has died from complications following cardiac surgery. She was 53 years old.

Editor's note: Information regarding condolences and arrangements are still being determined. Finalized details will be posted to the Virginia Tech homepage when they become available.

"Dr. Hikes was a deeply dedicated, charismatic, and inspirational leader who brought successful new ideas and leadership to the Division of Student Affairs," said President Charles W. Steger. "Her passing is a terrible loss to our community. She will be deeply missed by the students whom she served daily and by colleagues who were inspired by her dynamic thinking and creative ideas."

It was Hikes who organized the University Convocation held April 17, 2007, in Cassell Coliseum. The event, broadcast around the world, offered comfort and hope to a grief-stricken university community as well to those who watched the event.

Hikes was named vice president for student affairs at Virginia Tech on Sept. 1, 2005, having previously served as vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.

In her three years at Virginia Tech, Hikes made numerous contributions to improve the quality of student life on campus. Among these were "Hokie Camp," which began this summer and afforded 300 new students an opportunity to learn more about university traditions, respect for diversity, and the community-oriented spirit that thrives throughout Virginia Tech.

In 2006, Hikes launched "SafeWatch", a program that promotes individual and collective responsibility among students, faculty, staff, and guests, and encourages them to incorporate the Virginia Tech Principles of Community into their interpersonal and intergroup relationships. Patterned after the "neighborhood watch" program, SafeWatch promoted understanding of university policies and community expectations related to harassment, discrimination, or similar behaviors, and provide a way to report instances when policies and expectations are not followed.

"In addition to her many programmatic contributions, Zenobia cared deeply about the students she served," said Edward Spencer, associate vice president for student affairs. "She often held open forums for students, for example, simply to know what they were thinking and to hear their concerns. Students connected with her because they could see the compassion she felt for them."

As the chief executive officer for Virginia Tech's Student Affairs division, Hikes oversaw 15 university departments, including student life, housing and dining programs, career services, student health, and recreational sports.

With more than 20 years of administrative and leadership experience in the areas of enrollment management and student support services, Hikes has written and presented papers on race-specific student recruitment and retention, first-generation college admissions, and leadership development.

In addition to her professional experiences, Hikes has been active in both the civic and higher education arenas. Her civic involvement has focused on building multi-racial coalitions and empowering disenfranchised women and children. She has served on the boards of the Georgia Breast Cancer Coalition and the Governor's Tourism Advisory Board for the State of Delaware.

Prior to her position at Spelman, Hikes was at the University of Delaware, serving as the assistant to the vice president for student life from 1996 to 1999 and associate director of admissions from 1992 to 1996. She also was assistant director of admissions and recruitment at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, La., from 1986 to 1992.

In addition to her career in student affairs, Hikes has been a high school English teacher in Georgia and media specialist for the Navy/Marine Corps Family Service Center in Okinawa, Japan, where she led public relations programs and media campaigns.

During her career, Hikes' professional affiliations have included the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Southern Association for College Student Affairs, The College Board, National Association of College Admissions Counselors, and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Hikes received her Ed.D. from the University of Delaware, a master's from Georgia Southwestern University, and a bachelor's degree with honors from Spelman College.

Those in the university community who may wish for assistance or desire counseling support are encouraged to contact:

  • Cook Counseling Center at (540) 231-6557
  • Dean of Students Office at (540) 231-3787
  • Family and Work/Life Resources at (540) 231-3213
  • Office of Residence Life at (540) 231-6205
  • Employee Assistance Program / ValueOptions at (866) 725-0602
  • Employee Relations at (540) 231-9331

Referrals to a campus minister may be done through the Dean of Students Office at (540) 231-3787.