Parwinder Grewal describes himself as a “student-centered president” and right away when talking to him, it’s clear that he means it.
Come August, Grewal will take his position as president of not only Castleton, but Vermont State University as a whole. He has the somewhat challenging task of unifying the Castleton, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College campuses, something he has had experience with at his current job in Texas.
“Much of the work in the first year is transformation work, to bring together faculty, staff, students from all three universities, work with them, listen to them, and create this new university with a much stronger foundation,” Grewal said.
According to him, the main goal, of course, is to unify the three different campuses. This also means providing more offerings for students as far as undergraduate programs, graduate programs and other community-related activities.
Grewal said he would like to “[create] programs that are relevant to jobs, working with the state legislature and industry folks to identify programs that we must develop and offer so that students get access to jobs a lot more quickly.”
Grewal will be Castleton’s first president of color, and he sees the importance in that. One of his goals is to increase not only the diversity in the student population, but faculty and staff as well.
“These opportunities for people of color are limited,” Grewal said. “More and more students of color or students that have difficult economic backgrounds are coming to higher education, and they do need to see role models that they can aspire to, so they can think about themselves in the administrative roles or, you know, becoming scientists or professors and so on. So, it is very important from that perspective.”
Kayon Morgan, current secretary of the NAACP chapter at Castleton, expressed her excitement over this.
“My first reaction was ‘wow, that’s great’ … Having a person of color in administration, that’s everything,” Morgan said. “It’s a great step, a needed step.”
In addition, Grewal himself is a first-generation college student, and can relate to students on that level as well.
“I know the challenges students feel when they come to higher education, and I will be always listening to them and involving them in the decision making so that we could create a better university, a better environment for everyone,” Grewal said.
Wangchen “Snow” Tsering, who is also a first-generation college student and an international student from Tibet, said he feels it’s “very new” to have a president who can relate to those challenges.
As president of the Multicultural Club at Castleton, Tsering feels strongly about advocating for international students, particularly with the difficulties surrounding meal plans during breaks, when international students are some of the only people left on campus. The hope is that having a president who can understand these kinds of problems will be a big help to students.
One thing that Morgan and Tsering both hope Grewal will bring to the role is a connection with students, and that is certainly important to Grewal himself as well.
“Students would be my first priority, and my door would be open to them. On each campus they can reach out to me, schedule a meeting with me anytime, to discuss any issues they are facing or any ideas they want to develop,” Grewal said.
Grewal plans to visit and be present on every campus as frequently as he can, with the knowledge that this job will require a good amount of travel. But connection is important to him, and he wants to be present in the community as well – including attending the upcoming Castleton Economic Development Board meeting over Zoom.
And while he recognizes that there are emotional challenges with merging colleges, and lots of feelings surrounding “association with a particular campus, with a particular type of outlook of the university,” he wants Vermont State University to be something everyone can be proud of.
“Basically, the biggest thing that I want to do is listen to everyone – get people’s ideas, and incorporate those ideas, thoughts, visions that people have into the new university, so that it is a university for everyone, a university that people align to and feel good about,” Grewal said. “They may be thinking that their identity will be lost in some way, but moving forward, they have gained something.”