FY 23 SWVHEC Annual Report



Dr. Rachel Fowlkes served as the Agency Head and founding Executive Director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center from October 1991 until June 2015. Rachel believed deeply that higher education would create greater economic opportunities for residents of the region. Rachel was one of the visionaries behind the creation of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, where she served for twenty-four years. Under her leadership, the Center partnered with ten colleges and universities around the state to offer advanced degrees, provide professional development conferences and seminars, and host regional economic development events. The Center was established to stimulate economic development and enhance educational opportunities in southwest Virginia. It was the first multi-institutional agency in the Commonwealth.

Rachel recognized that education and economic development were critical for the region and that Southwest Virginians needed access to multiple higher education resources. Remembered as a visionary leader and educator, she touched many students’ lives as an elementary school classroom teacher, a special education teacher, and the supervisor for special education for Washington County. After completing her doctoral work, she shifted her professional focus to post-secondary education and became the director of the University of Virginia’s division of continuing education in Southwest Virginia and then the state coordinator of UVA’s education programs. Using all this experience, she then eventually went on to assist with founding the Center. Rachel was also a beloved and engaged member of the community, serving as an insightful and dedicated board member for multiple local and regional organizations.

“I’m a person who has always been thinking about what we can do better, what we can do more effectively. I think the opportunities for us are infinite.” -Rachel D. Fowlkes


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