Virginia Hardy reflects on 29-year career at ECU

Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs, will retire this month after 29 years serving the students of East Carolina University.

Hardy, an eastern North Carolina native, was a middle school teacher and assistant principal before joining what was then the ECU School of Medicine as a counselor so that she could be near and take care of her parents.

“While I was teaching at Wellcome Middle, I realized that I was doing a lot of counseling and helping students … and so I came back to ECU while I was working and got my master’s degree in counseling,” she said.

Hardy sorts and bags sweet potatoes with students during Yam Jam 2022, one of the many student events she participated in during her ECU tenure. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)


Friends, colleagues and alumni share their thoughts on Hardy’s impact at ECU.

  • “From our lunch dates to phone calls to meeting up when I would come back to Greenville, she has always been an amazing mentor, friend and ‘School Mom,’ as I often call her. She has been an amazing help with my career and where I see myself going in this world. She has always encouraged me to give back to both my beloved institution and to the world. I know for a fact that without her guidance and mentorship I would not have been the student or the alum I am today. – Mariama Ibrahim, clinical research associate, Duke Clinical Research Institute
  • Virginia Hardy has been a consummate student advocate throughout her entire career in education. Her professional manner, easy style and infectious smile have helped her to navigate some of the most difficult situations. She may be retiring but she is definitely not done. Love you V. – Dr. Shirley Carraway, retired educator
  • Hardy came into her leadership roles at ECU as an educator with counseling knowledge. Therefore, she understood the importance of a positive college experience for the students. During her tenure she worked diligently to assure a quality and nurturing resident life, extracurricular involvement opportunities that enhanced the academic experience, while creating an inclusive campus environment. For those of us working to bring her visions to fruition, failure was not an option. The directive, “make it work” was understood! – Jennifer Griggs, former executive assistant
  • Virginia is a special leader, and it was my honor to work for her in student affairs at East Carolina. She helped me grow as a professional. She had clear vision and was able to bring everyone along with grace, warmth, understanding and accountability. ECU was lucky to have someone of her caliber. I would like to thank Virginia for embracing me and my family. We will never forget her. – Zack Hawkins, director of development, Student Affairs, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Hardy has always been an impeccable example of leadership fashioned by excellence. I have looked to her for personal and professional advice. She is my cheerleader, encourager and sometimes my coach. During my tenure as SGA president, I worked with her intimately, and her passion for student achievement was personified in every discussion. Dr. Hardy has only wanted the best for East Carolina University and has worked diligently to help catapult our great ECU to where we are now. Thank you for always giving us your best! – La’Quon Rogers, COO, Mary’s Care Inc. and AmbuCare Medical Transport Inc.
  • We often look back over our lives and wonder what life was like before a particular individual entered our story. To see a Black woman who looked like me advocating for the needs of students on a personable level is hard to miss. I’ll never forget the day she walked into a Black Student Union meeting — my freshman year. The rest is history! She helped me navigate the PWI space and beyond! Because of Dr. Hardy’s impact, dreaming big wasn’t a necessity. It’s a requirement! The connections she made with students go beyond four years. I’m five years post-grad, and I still keep her updated on all the big dreams happening. — Janae Carlee, Class of 2017

Holding an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina, an ECU master’s degree, and a doctoral degree from N.C. State makes for some interesting conversations, especially around athletic events, she said.

As a counselor and in student affairs, Hardy has constantly put students first. She always wanted to be in education, she said.

“These are my babies. I want them to have a voice and I want them to have a space,” she said. “I tell them not to take this for granted because not every institution allows for the students to have as much of a voice as our students do.”

Hardy has played an important role in giving students a voice, both by representing them at the leadership table and by giving them direct access to the chancellor and other administrators. The Chancellor’s Roundtable, now called the Pirate Roundtable, and Cupola Conversations are programs she helped institute to give voice to student concerns. The Pirate Roundtable is a group of student leaders from across both campuses.

“We meet monthly to talk about whatever the issues are,” Hardy said. “Whatever they want to bring to the table, whatever we as administration want to bring to the table. And we talk through those issues. … so they have an opportunity to voice their concerns, and then to get feedback and to have input on what it is we need to be doing.”

Finding her voice

Her time at the medical school, she said, taught her to find her own voice and how to use it in a positive way. She strives to lead good decision making without telling people what to do.

“If we listen to our students, they will get it right,” she said. “If we empower our students, and then grown folks get out of the way, they will come with some powerful stuff — powerful solutions, powerful ideas, powerful ways and new ways of being, doing and leading. We need to listen to them and allow them that space to do that. And in the good and the bad, particularly during the challenging moments, they will rise to the occasion.”

With both students and colleagues, she’s learned the importance of offering unconditional regard and of listening. “I use a borrowed term, to listen seriously,” she said. “You listen with a notion of hearing, understanding and really being able to grasp what the person is talking about, and not thinking about what it is you’re going to say and do.”

Chancellor Philip Rogers said Hardy’s influence is felt across campus.

“In one of the first conversations I had with Dr. Hardy upon my return to ECU, she said, ‘I’ve got your back, no matter what,’” he said. “And I can’t tell you how meaningful that was to a new chancellor. She meant it, too, and she means it with her students and everyone she works with.”

From individual mentoring to instituting programs and structures to better support our students, Rogers said, Hardy’s legacy is one of service.

“She leads with truth and integrity,” he said. “Around every table and in every decision, she ensures the needs of the students are our first priority.”

Hardy has led and participated in the approval and construction of residence halls and student centers, established benchmarks for faculty involvement, and grown the living learning communities program. She has also built new relationships with alumni through the Legacy Program and 40 Under 40 Recognition and Corporate Leadership program, and has worked with community partners to ensure student safety and foster economic development.

Legacy of advocacy

Through it all, she has built a legacy of student advocacy and mentorship, according to former students and colleagues.

“She was attentive, responsive and empathetic to my thoughts, opinions and concerns. Instead of assuming how students were faring, she went directly to the source,” said DaJuan Lucas ’15, early talent lead manager for Vanguard’s Emerging Talent and Diversity Recruiting Strategy team. “She also did not allow our connection to end at graduation, constantly sending check-in notes and congratulatory messages since I left in 2015. Dr. Hardy illustrates what it means when we say, ‘Once a Pirate, always a Pirate’ by her actions, thoughts and passion for the student body.”

Hardy remains friends with a lot of former students, she said, and the outpouring of support when her retirement was announced earlier this year brought tears to her eyes. “When you do right by folks, it makes an impact,” she said. “And they in turn, pay it forward.”

In retirement, Hardy said she’s looking forward to rest, travel and reading, as well as spending time with family, especially her three sisters. “There’s some danger in that,” she joked. “Who knows what the Hardy women will do?”

Hardy said she’s confident in the university’s future and in Rogers’ leadership.

“It’s because he’s here that I feel comfortable in leaving, because he’s got this, and he’s stabilizing this institution,” she said. “And under his leadership, this institution is going to flourish. And I feel comfortable with that.”

What makes ECU special, she said, is the sense of mission. Starting at the medical school, she said, “you could walk the hallways, and everybody from the housekeeping staff to the dean could tell you in their own words, their own way, what the mission of that medical school was and is, and that was beautiful to me.

“This place makes a difference. It simply makes a difference in the lives of our students, in the lives of our employees, and in the lives of eastern North Carolina.”

At an institution focused on service, Hardy leaves a legacy that sets an example of how to serve with grace.

Laura Leary Elliott, ECU’s first Black graduate, visited campus during homecoming in 2012. Elliott, center, is pictured with Dr. Virginia Hardy and Dr. John Tucker, university historian.

Laura Leary Elliott, ECU’s first Black graduate, visited campus during homecoming in 2012. Elliott, center, is pictured with Dr. Virginia Hardy and Dr. John Tucker, university historian. (File photo)