Corey S. Bradford Sr. is coming to St. Louis from Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas to lead Harris-Stowe State University as its 20th president. But he also is coming home.
“St. Louis is my hometown, so this is my personal passion,” Bradford told The American. “Harris-Stowe is right in my neighborhood. I went to Cole Elementary just a few blocks down from the university.”
At Prairie View A&M University, he has served as senior vice president for Business Affairs under President Ruth J. Simmons, who is something of a legend in higher education. She was the first African-American president of an Ivy League institution, Brown University.
“She really inspired me to have an impact on the next generation,” Bradford said of Simmons. “I want to come back and try to make a major impact. I want to help heal the divisions and inspire others to live a more prosperous life.”
Bradford, who takes the helm on May 4, succeeds Dwaun J. Warmack, who left for a position as president of Claflin University. Bradford said he hopes to “build upon Dr. Warmack’s success” by focusing on student retention and graduation.
With more than 26 years of experience in higher education and a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Southern Illinois University, he has ideas.
“We need summer enrollment – I am a proponent of bringing in freshman early,” he said. “We need to monitor gatekeeper courses. We need to offer tutoring programs – online and face to face – when students are available. We need internships, study abroad programs, research opportunities where students can work with faculty. And we need to create reclamation programs where we try to reach out to students we lose and try to get them to return to complete their degree.”
As it turns out, he has an expert at home. His spouse, Josette Bradford, also has a PhD and works in student success and retention. She is leaving a position at Prairie View A&M University and looking for academic work in St. Louis.
They are empty nesters. Their twins, 22, graduated from Louisiana State University in three years. Their son is pursuing an MBA, and their daughter is in veterinary school.
Bradford sees his new job as entailing responsibility toward youth even younger than his students at Harris-Stowe.
“Harris-Stowe has always been a beacon of hope for the disadvantaged,” he said. “I want to be a role model, someone who engages with the community. There is a lack of role models to influence especially our young men. We need to engage our young men early.”
He said he plans to partner with local school districts and get their students on campus. “We need to bring them to campus,” he said, “let them attend programs and events and get them engaged so they see that this is the place they want to be.”
He also has his eye on the other end of the university pipeline.
“Harris-Stowe is well positioned to address the region’s ongoing workforce needs,” Bradford said. “We can help with workforce development and be a pipeline for local companies with STEM needs. Harris-Stowe is focused on STEM education and degrees. Being a STEM major myself, that is outstanding.”
He has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mathematics from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He even sees himself teaching freshman math, as well as some business courses, though not in his first year.
His first year, of course, will be marked in as yet unknown ways by the COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in universities, including Harris-Stowe, shutting down campuses and adjusting to remote learning. With the economy crippled, universities are expecting disruptions in patterns of enrollment next academic year.
“Not having arrived yet, I’m not privy to those conversations,” Bradford said about how Harris-Stowe is preparing for those disruptions.
He said that Harris-Stowe had “adjusted quickly” to online learning, and that was likely to have an impact. “After this,” he said, “I think we will see more classes of a hybrid kind, with an online component, that utilizes technology to advantage.”
At the same time, as an HBCU, Harris-Stowe has an historical mission of serving the black community, which is being hit hardest by COVID-19 with disease and death.
“A lot of people are experiencing loss,” Bradford said. “I am excited at the opportunity to bring renewal to a lot of people who are hurting. Harris-Stowe has been here for 160 years. We are going to get through it. There are brighter days ahead.”