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Former dean heads to Norfolk State University as interim president

Dec 13, 2017
Melvin-StithFor those who know Mel Stith, former dean of Florida State University’s College of Business, it’s no surprise retirement hasn’t slowed him down. In fact, he is gearing up to take on a brand new challenge: this time as interim president at Norfolk State University – effective today.

Stith is no stranger to Norfolk State. He graduated from the Virginia school with a degree in sociology in 1968 and was a longtime member of the university’s Board of Visitors and served as vice rector until his current appointment. He was selected for the new position after the president announced his retirement in September. Stith expects to remain as interim president for anywhere from a year to 18 months. 

Before retiring two years ago, Stith spent more than 30 years in higher education. He served as the dean and the Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in the FSU College of Business from 1991 to 2004, including time as chair of the Department of Marketing, and then spent the next 10 years as dean of the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. He earned his Master of Business Administration (MBA) and doctorate degree in marketing from Syracuse in the ’70s. Before coming to FSU, he was a professor at Florida A&M University and the University of South Florida. 

Widely recognized as a transformational leader and for his work ethic and collaborative style, Stith has fond memories of his time at the FSU College of Business. He says he gained valuable experiences and forged great friendships among faculty, alumni, students and friends of FSU, including automobile giant and philanthropist Jim Moran and his wife, Jan Moran. The Morans invited Stith to sit on the board of directors of the Youth Automotive Training Center for at-risk youth. He was a founding director of The Jim Moran Foundation, which was formed in 2000. 

His deep friendship with the Morans resulted in numerous financial gifts to the college and FSU, including a $1 million gift in 1995 to establish the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the college, the creation of JM Family Enterprises African-American Youth Achiever Endowed Scholarships and, eventually, years after he departed FSU, the recent $100 million gift from Jan Moran and The Jim Moran Foundation.

During Stith’s tenure as dean of the Whitman School, he supported efforts by faculty member and veteran Mike Haney to create the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), which offers experiential training in entrepreneurship to post 9/11 veterans with service-related disabilities. Stith, a Vietnam veteran, secured the initial funding that allowed the program to be offered for free, and championed bringing the program to FSU, where it continues to thrive.  

Stith also is a founding member of the PhD Project. This national program supports advancement in workplace diversity by helping increase the diversity of business school faculty across academia. To date, more than 1,200 faculty members have earned their degrees with support of the PhD Project. Today, the FSU College of Business is recognized as a national leader in producing African-Americans with doctorate degrees. 

Among his many accomplishments, Stith considers the talented faculty he built at FSU among his proudest achievements. Many of the junior faculty members who came on board when he was chair of the marketing department or dean, today are senior faculty members who make up the college’s leadership – among them Dean Michael Hartline and associate deans Dennis Cradit and Kathleen McCullough

“I learned the importance of building a good team and trusting them to do their jobs,” Stith said. “We had a good mix of young people and more senior people to mentor them – an excellent core faculty that allowed me to put the college on autopilot and to go out and build relationships among alumni and in the corporate world and raise money.” 

He credits his FSU faculty for allowing him the ability to raise the funds to increase the college’s endowments, expand the number of endowed chairs and build a new technology center, among other things. 

Since retiring from Syracuse, Stith and his wife, Patricia Lynch Stith, continue to participate in community activities in both Syracuse and Tallahassee. Patricia Stith, who also earned her undergraduate degree at Norfolk State University and her doctorate at Florida State, served as director of retention at FSU from 1987 to 2004. Before retiring from Syracuse University, she served as assistant provost for equity and inclusion and associate dean of the graduate school. 

Even as a retiree, the former dean has continued to serve on numerous corporate boards, including Synovus Financial Group, Aflac, Flowers Food Corporation and AARP Services, for which he is chairman of the board. Last year, he was named one of the most influential black corporate directors in Savoy Magazine’s “Power 300” issue. 

Although his position at Norfolk State will be temporary, Stith says he hopes to leave an environment where the new president can continually improve the brand and explore new ventures that benefit the Norfolk State community. 

By Barbara Ash





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