Profiles in Leadership: Adelia Thompson, Chief of Staff and Acting Chief Executive Officer, Christopher Newport University

We would like to congratulate CNU President Paul Trible on his recently announced retirement. Mr. Trible’s contributions to the university and to this community are unparalleled. His dedicated servant leadership sets an example we can all emulate. Mr. Trible has led a team to establish and lead one of the finest universities in Virginia, and has led the university through incredibly challenging times. The Dreamers who are now part of CNU’s Community Captains program are testament to the generational impact of his leadership. In February 2021, when Mr. Trible announced a six-month sabbatical to care for his wife, Rosemary, he appointed Adelia Thompson, chief of staff, as acting chief executive officer. While a search for the next President is conducted, the Board has asked Adelia Thompson to serve as interim President and CEO for the academic year 2022-2023. We wish Mr. Trible all the best as he prepares for this transition and we are so grateful that he will remain closely involved with CNU, including serving as Chancellor for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Mr. Trible shared with us about Ms. Thompson: “Adelia is passionate about people and pursues excellence in all things. She works from early morning to late at night to make good things happen. Adelia has led Christopher Newport with joy, kindness, and remarkable success in very difficult and challenging times!”

Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Ms. Thompson and discuss the opportunities and challenges she faces as a leader. We are pleased to share this interview.

Q: President Trible has been a powerful leader for CNU for more than 25 years. What have the last six months been like for you, fulfilling this role for him while he was on sabbatical?

A: When President Trible made the decision and the announcement about his sabbatical, he did two really powerful things as the leader of Christopher Newport:

  • He showed the 1,000+ people who work at Christopher Newport, and our 5,000 students, that part of living a life of significance is knowing when it is time to, as he says, “step away from something you love for something you love more.” He said that when he decided to step away from his successful political life in order to spend more time with Rosemary and his young family, and he said that once again when he made this latest decision to be fully present with Rosemary — the love of his life — to care for her while she undergoes treatment for a debilitating autoimmune muscular disease. He reminded us all that caring for the love in your life is what matters most. What a powerful thing to model for our Christopher Newport family.
  • He made an extraordinary statement about the faith and trust he has in the leadership team he has assembled at the University. It is a group of colleagues who would walk through fire to support him and most importantly, to care for this remarkable University — its values, vision, mission and future, and the people who bring it to life. We promised him we would take care of this place and this family, so he could take care of Rosemary. With the hard work and incredible loyalty and dedication of faculty and staff across this campus, and with the leadership and commitment of our board and volunteers, alumni and parents, we hope he will be proud of what he and Rosemary return to in August, when they come home to us and we all begin the celebration of Christopher Newport’s 60th anniversary year. I know for me, and I think for all of us, leaning into the trust and responsibility he invested in us has been and continues to be a profound honor and pushes us all to bring our very best, in every way, every day.

Q: As we transition out of the pandemic regulations, what challenges have you experienced, and what perspective have you tried to maintain as you approached those challenges?

A: Throughout the pandemic, a group of administrators, faculty and staff have worked to navigate all things COVID-related for the University. It was convened by the President, and that group is about 11 people — bringing in other colleagues from time to time with expertise in specific areas — and has served since the pandemic began. The many challenges we faced were the same as those facing lots of organizations and certainly all of higher education: how to continue delivering on our promise of the very best higher education, liberal arts and sciences experience while protecting the health and welfare of our campus community and the community around us.
Our IT folks are complete heroes. They not only figured out how to make that happen for us, including getting all the additional equipment that was necessary, but also they trained all of our faculty on how to use that equipment and effectively employ the virtual world so they could teach from their kitchen tables instead of their classrooms. As far as perspective around that — no one ever gave room to the idea that we couldn’t do it. Ever. The faculty members and IT experts were completely determined and committed to making it happen for our students.
It was extraordinary to be part of this community as it completely reinvented itself, while hanging on tightly to who we are, our mission, our values, and our commitment to one another. I really believe that how we managed to emerge from this pandemic has everything to do with who we were before it began. The culture of service, respect, honor, and care for one another that is at our heart was the driver for how we navigated the crisis because it was of our heart before March of 2020. President Trible established that culture 25 years ago, and it remains our lifeline, even during his absence and through every day of the pandemic.

Q: We know that in challenges, we find opportunity. What are some of the opportunities you and your team have seen and embraced? What positive elements have come from that?

A: Well, we now have the technological capacity to do a lot of things that will help us deliver even more fully on our education promises to our students. We can engage guest lecturers from around the globe, bringing them into the classrooms virtually. We have new efficiencies across our day-to-day operations, like increasingly paperless documentation programs which sounds dry and small in the grand scheme of things but mean major savings. We have learned the importance of communication, certainly in a crisis time, but all the time, to keep our campus community informed, connected, and engaged. We have new ideas for in-person events, like commencement and homecoming, because figuring out how to do versions of them with masks and distancing actually revealed new ways to make them even more personal, more special. We are right in the middle of figuring out all the details for life on campus this fall, but we are grateful that colleagues across the campus have been open with their thoughts and experiences about lessons learned and how to bring those new skills and capacities forward to do more and be better as we move ahead.

Q: In what ways are you most proud of your team as it navigates an already challenging field of higher education during a global pandemic?

A: Again, really it is how the people of this place managed to fiercely protect who we are and what we do and maintain the level of excellence in the classroom and across the campus, all the while navigating the necessary difficulties and dealing with fear, illness and major change in their own lives that makes the Christopher Newport family’s COVID story amazing.
I should note that CNU retained students in record numbers last fall. Our students still found ways to serve the community in spite of the challenges of in-person service opportunities (they still managed to log more than 80,000 hours of service last year!). Our 2021 graduates were sent off into the world with full-on (if re-invented) commencement experiences, and the class of 2020 has marched into life successfully and with great purpose, as we recently learned that 93% of them are either employed full time or in graduate school. And perhaps for us as a part of the larger Peninsula and Hampton Roads community, being a partner in, and serving as the host location for, the vaccine clinic operated through the partnership among the City of Newport News, York County, and the Peninsula Health District was the most important experience of this past year. Knowing that 25,000 of our first responders, frontline workers, teachers, neighbors, and our faculty, staff, and students received the vaccine through that clinic means everything to us.
What did we learn through that? The power in and importance of being a leader in the community
we share and a renewed respect for what can be accomplished when we bring our best, individually and collectively. We are so grateful to our partners and to all those who worked endlessly for months to protect our community and open the doors for a future where we can once again be fully present with one another — something none of us will ever take for granted.

Q: What are some of the ways you have maintained positivity throughout this pandemic, especially now as routines are once again changing? Do you plan to continue any mental health or wellness tools that you have developed?

A: Being able to be fully present together this fall is a powerful motivator for us all, and I think hanging onto that vision during the darkest days of the pandemic kept us all forging ahead. Our Student Affairs and Counseling teams are constantly looking at how best to address the mental health needs of students, especially emerging from the last 16 months, and our HR office has new possibilities to launch this fall that will offer faculty and staff new tools and opportunities for professional and personal development — again because of lessons learned through the pandemic. But the biggest driver of positivity and hope is the ability to come back together as a community and do what we do best: provide the best possible liberal arts and sciences educational experience with honor, service, and leadership at our core and commitment to hearts AND minds as the star out in front of all of us, every day.

Q: What are you most looking forward to for the Fall 2021 semester?


  • Move-in day for our freshmen!
  • Honors Convocations — two of them, one for freshmen and one for sophomores, when they sign the Honor Code and join our community of honor for their time as Captains and throughout their lives;
  • Welcoming the first class of Community Captains from the Newport News Public Schools (several of whom are your Achievable Dream students!)
  • Formally opening the spectacular new Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center;
  • Opening the doors of the Ferguson Center where we have been “saving your seats,” and bringing the best performances in the world back to that stage;
  • Launching a full season of competition in every sport we offer on this campus — and winning!
  • And most of all, saying “Welcome Home” to Paul and Rosemary Trible as they return mid-August to lead us into our 60th anniversary year.
    I believe all of us at Christopher Newport are more grateful than ever for this special place, for our neighbors and for the future we get to build, together.