With Her B-CU Legacy, Wendy Thompson '82 Charts New Horizons at Fisk

With Her B-CU Legacy, Wendy Thompson '82 Charts New Horizons at Fisk

Wendy Thompson's journey is deeply intertwined with Bethune-Cookman University, a place that holds a profound significance in her family's history. "My roots are at Bethune-Cookman, and it is in my DNA," she reflects. 

The story begins in the early 1930s when her father, a teenager from East Palatka, Florida, sought his mother in Daytona Beach, where she relocated to work as a maid. A chance encounter with Mary McLeod Bethune proved pivotal as she asked him, "Do you want to go to school?" This query set the stage for a transformative journey, leading him to Bethune-Cookman and later mortuary school at the University of Minnesota, a remarkable achievement given the barriers faced by Black students in the South during that era.

Fast forward almost two decades, and Thompson's mother, from Key West, Florida, began her own educational pursuit at Bethune-Cookman. Fate intervened, resulting in marriage and the formation of a family. Along with her three older siblings, young Thompson spent their formative years on the campus, cementing a familial commitment to the institution. 

This commitment extended beyond family ties, with Thompson's father and two brothers pledging Gamma Theta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and her mother, sister, and herself pledging Delta Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Their dedication was acknowledged during Thompson's graduation ceremony when they received the total family commitment award—an acknowledgment of their collective contributions to Bethune-Cookman's legacy.

The familial connection deepened with the naming of Thompson Hall in honor of her parents. The family's legacy continued with her brother Herbert "Shubie" Thompson's retirement after over 30 years as Dean of Math, Science, and Engineering, and Associate Provost. Another brother, Lynn Thompson, retired after three decades as Director of Athletics and Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics.

Thompson's professional journey also bore the imprints of Bethune-Cookman, where her first higher education job was as a freshman orientation instructor—a foreshadowing of her future contributions to the field. The intricate tapestry of her family's history and her experiences at Bethune-Cookman set the stage for a profound and lasting connection to the institution.

This narrative of familial dedication, resilience, and contributions to Bethune-Cookman lays the foundation for Thompson's overarching commitment to education and leadership. It reached its pinnacle with her recent appointment as Vice President and Chief of Staff at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. In this role, Thompson collaborates closely with President Agenia Clark, working to execute visionary initiatives and create an environment conducive to achieving key priorities and major goals. Thompson’s vision for Fisk University involves fostering an atmosphere of collaboration, transparent communication, and teamwork to propel the institution to greater heights.

With Her B-CU Legacy, Wendy Thompson '82 Charts New Horizons at Fisk

Caption: Thompson and family receiving the Bethune-Cookman Total Family Commitment Award from President Oswald Bronson during her graduation ceremony in May 1982.

Having practically grown up on Bethune-Cookman University's campus, Thompson acknowledges the profound impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on students, communities, and the nation. "I am blessed to be able to use what I have been given through that legacy to help current and future sons and daughters of Fisk succeed, thrive, and return to help future Fiskites," she emphasizes. Her commitment to the advancement of HBCUs reflects a genuine dedication to preserving and enhancing the legacy of these institutions.

Reflecting on her unique perspective on diversity, Thompson shares poignant early experiences during the desegregation era. "I know what it feels like to be in a supported environment, and I know what it feels like to be an 'other.' That is my lens," she reflects. This personal insight underscores her commitment to diversity advocacy, a consistent thread throughout her extensive career in higher education. Thompson's experiences serve as a testament to the resilience required to navigate challenges and the importance of fostering inclusive environments.

In her role as a leader, Thompson has provided invaluable guidance to over 150 faculty and administrators. Drawing from her personal experiences, she emphasizes the importance of self-understanding, strengths, and growth areas. "Two pieces of advice I always share – every encounter is an interview, and listen more than you talk – but always speak up when it is relevant and necessary," she advises. This counsel, rooted in her own journey, reflects her commitment to nurturing the next generation of leaders.

As she reflects on her HBCU roots, Thompson recalls essential elements crucial to student success—exceptional instruction, high expectations, and a nurturing environment. "The high-quality instruction I received at Bethune-Cookman...not only equipped me academically but also instilled a lifelong love for learning." This reflection underscores the enduring impact of HBCUs in providing not just education but a holistic and empowering experience.

Her story encourages students to arm passion with knowledge and resolve, emphasizing the importance of perseverance, gratitude, and continuous forward movement. “Listen a bit more, think a little longer, ask questions, formulate your thoughts and beliefs, and then arm your passion with knowledge and resolve,” says Thompson.

Wendy Thompson's journey exemplifies the enduring impact of a rich educational legacy and the significant role HBCUs play in shaping leaders who contribute meaningfully to society. As she takes on her new role at Fisk University, Thompson's commitment to fostering an environment of collaboration, transparency, and teamwork reflects the values instilled in her through her B-CU experience.