Harvest, Alabama

Ava Willis-Barksdale

BIO   |   

Ava Willis-Barksdale has recently joined Oakwood University as the Vice President of University Advancement. She returns to her alma mater to serve after amassing more than 30 years of work history as a medical professional, faculty member and educational program leader, and as an advancement leader in educational and healthcare settings.  Over the course of her career, she has served in the following ways:

Health Professional and Educational Leadership:

Ava began, with her degree in Medical Technology from Oakwood (College), as a clinical hospital laboratory professional and, after a few years, accepted the request to return to Oakwood the first time to teach in Chemistry and to support students who, like herself, were pursuing careers in medically related fields (medicine, dentistry and a variety of allied health areas of study). During that time, she helped to lay the groundwork for the Associate Degree in Allied Health now offered at OU.  Through involvement in the National Association of Medical Minority Educators, she expanded her career by working at two medical schools (East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine and the Ohio University School of Osteopathic Medicine) doing the critical work of recruiting and retaining minority students at those professional schools. It was during this time that she fine-tuned her abilities to write and secure large federal grants and to craft compelling reports needed to maintain funding.

Philanthropic Work and Leadership:

At five institutions, Earlham College (Richmond, IN), Loyola University Medical Center (Chicago, IL), Fox Chase Cancer Center (Philadelphia, PA), Ursinus College (Collegeville, PA), and Lincoln University (Lincoln University, PA), Ava has held leadership positions in philanthropic areas. Her areas of expertise include: Gift Solicitation and Donor Relations and Stewardship, Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations and Grant writing, Alumni Relations, Annual Giving, and Advancement Services. This variety of settings provided broad exposure to institutional types, while maintaining focus on the fundamental principles of philanthropic work and development of relationships that yield significant support.

Institutional Leadership and Team Building:

Throughout her career, Ava has built and maintained strong teams. While stepping out of the higher education realm for 8 years, she was the Operational Vice President and Director of Human Resources for Girard College – a historic residential school for children in grades one through twelve from single-parent, low-income backgrounds located in the heart of North Philadelphia. This work strengthened her administrative core while leading at a school established through philanthropy, more than 160 years before her arrival there. In addition, she served as the Interim President for one year at Girard before returning to the world of philanthropy at the higher educational level.

Family Life:

Ava is married to Byron Barksdale and they share three adult children: Andrea Rivers Balogun, Angela Rivers Baptiste, and Byron Barksdale II, as well as four grandchildren.