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Women Bisnow
January 15, 2008

President Jarvis


This issue of Washington Women is presented by
The Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

In 1954, when the Supreme Court mandated integration of public schools after Brown v. Board of Education, Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis was part of the landmark decision. After attending Banneker Junior High, Jarvis went to Roosevelt High School as part of integration. "The schools were integrated when I went in and were re-segregated when I left," she says.


Charlene Drew Jarvis


A lifelong DC resident and former DC Council member, Jarvis has seen the capital city undergo epic changes.  Well-known for shepherding legislation for the new Washington Convention Center and the MCI Center, since 1996 she has served as president of Southeastern University, turning what was once an institution with a student body of primarily international students into one that serves the DC community well outside the classroom walls.

Jarvis, daughter of famed blood transfusion pioneer Dr. Charles Drew, began her career where she spent the early years of her life, at Howard University. "I grew up right on the Howard campus," she says, "a very rich academic and cultural environment. DC was very segregated but being part of the university community insulated us." After graduating from Oberlin, earning an MS from Howard and a Ph.D. in neuropsychology from the University of Maryland, Jarvis worked as a research scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health. "I never intended to leave science. I meant to identify the people in public office who could reshape our city," she says.


Jarvis with students Steven Riley and Alexandra Panait.


In 1978, when Marion Barry won the DC mayoral race, Jarvis was working for his opponent, Sterling Tucker. "The process helped me understand the opportunity to revitalize the city."  She became a council member for Ward 4. "I was chair of the housing and economic development committee. People said, 'Why do you want to take that on, that's a no win?' And that was enough for me."

When she took office in 1979, the area around 14th Street was still deeply scarred from the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. "Businesses were fleeing after the riots, the suburbs became very appealing. Washington was a city with a population of 900,000 that declined to under 600,000."  Now we are in an age of revitalization. "I have now lived long enough to see the cycle of people moving out of the city and back into the city," says Jarvis.

Jarvis remained on the DC City Council until 2000, devoting a great deal of time and energy making sure that female and non-white business owners were able to participate in business development. "Many of these knew their own businesses but often didn't know  business skills. I said 'I need to be in an educational role. There are too few women and people of color who are entrepreneurs.'"


Jarvis with student Tiarra White.


Jarvis has taken that mentality to the halls of academia. Founded by the YMCA in 1879, Southeastern in recent years had become a school serving a largely international student base. "After 9/11 we lost the majority of our international students because of visa restrictions. Now we have a majority of domestic undergrads - principally women from DC who also work. The domestic local demographic is one I hoped for. When students are trained, we want them to stay here," says Jarvis.

Emphasizing management, entrepreneurial spirit, and workforce
training, Southeastern identifies the skills necessary in the region
from the employer's perspective and provides a curriculum that will positively influence the economic development of the community. "Developers said they needed property management so we developed a property management certification program with William C. Smith and Forest City."

It may be a little smaller than the MCI Center, but Jarvis and Southeastern are currently working on renovating the University's west wing. With naming rights for all the classrooms, students will be taking notes in rooms bearing names like Pepco, Wachovia and Fannie Mae, and have a good chance of working for similar companies after they graduate.

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