Katrina Powell loves a challenge.

Whether it’s growing up on a farm, just across the Virginia line in Providence, North Carolina, serving in the U.S. Army during Desert Storm or working as a city manager for cities wavering between growth and despair, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Foundation’s (SVHEF) new executive director is in her element when the stakes are high.

“I thoroughly enjoy chasing the challenge of ‘making change happen,’ and I’m bored if I’m not pursuing some issue that needs to be addressed or changed,” she said.

A former city manager for diverse cities in Florida and Michigan, Powell is now turning her vast skills and experiences to growing the SVHEF.

Established in 1997, the foundation serves as the primary supporter of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. While the non-profit has succeeded on many projects, including taking on ownership of The Prizery’s facilities, consistent fundraising remains a challenge.

In December 2018, foundation board members placed their bets on Powell, believing she could face this challenge and succeed.

“We’re very excited to have a person of Katrina’s abilities on board,” said SVHEF chairman Ryan Garrett. “One of her primary duties will be fundraising. Katrina’s very good at managing finances and raising revenues, and she has a proven track record in both. We think she’s the right person to help us change our region’s narrative from survival to growth.”

Throughout her 30 years in public service, both in the military and working in local government, Powell developed a reputation for shifting the negative narrative to positive outcomes.

She’s helped large and small communities plagued with revenue loss find their financial footing, managed multi-million dollar building/infrastructure projects and helped one of the nation’s most diverse city (per capita, Hamtramck, Michigan) hold itself together amidst intense financial and crumbling/non-existent infrastructure tensions.

“Throughout my career, and in my personal life also, I’ve had to make things happen. I work really well when someone tells me I can’t achieve or do something. My adrenaline goes into overdrive, as I show them I can, and I will. But at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships—they’re the key to everything. In order to be successful in fund development, we must establish and nurture relationships with those businesses and individuals whose values and support are motivated by our mission of ‘changing lives, daily,’” said Powell.

Powell steps into the SVHEF executive director’s role at a pivotal time as the foundation embarks on a new direction and refocuses on fundraising.

“While the foundation has been in place for decades, we have recently moved from campus landlords to the roots of a higher education foundation’s existence, which is to raise funds for student scholarships, faculty program support and areas of greatest need within the SVHEC,” Powell said.

Over the coming months, Powell will work with the SVHEF board and the SVHEC’s executive director, Dr. Betty Adams, to fine-tune the foundation’s strategic fund development plan.

“With Katrina’s leadership, the foundation is positioning itself to be a game-changer for the SVHEC. Increased foundation support means more citizens will have access to the life-changing educational opportunities delivered by the SVHEC and our partners,” said Adams.

The opportunity to come home to Southern Virginia and to support regional access to education is primarily what attracted Powell to the foundation.

“I’m so happy to be back home and excited to be able to help this community and region,” she said.

Throughout her life, Powell has seen communities flourish because of education, and she believes the same thing can happen in southern Virginia.

“Education draws business to a community; it’s the key to economic vitality and prosperity. With the right strategic investments, this region can hang its hat on providing world-class educational opportunities. This community may have its challenges, but higher education is an area where we can compete and win,” she said.

For more information about the Southern Virginia Higher Education Foundation, visit www.svhef.org.