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Sue Ott Rowlands

In the face of tragedy, the human instinct is to run away.

After the April 16 shooting at Virginia Tech University, no one would have blamed an administrator for leaving. But Oklahoma Christian alumna Sue Ott Rowlands did just the opposite.

Her passion for theater, arts and higher education led her straight to Virginia Tech's newest college: Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She began her role as dean in July.

Although she admits that Virginia Tech, and specifically her college, which lost several students and professors five months ago, will never be the same, she and her new colleagues are trying to achieve what they call "the new normal."

Virginia Tech's commitment to international studies and the arts drew her to this new position. Sue received a degree in speech/communication with a theater concentration in 1975, followed by a master of fine arts degree in acting and directing from the University of Oklahoma.

Since then, she has pursued a career in both theater and higher education that included acting, directing, teaching, and touring her one-woman show nationally and internationally. Sue decided to move to Blacksburg, Virginia, because of the university's commitment to her passions.

"In the last 10 years, I've really honed in on two things," she said. "The first is international work as an artist. I pretty much only work internationally now. The second is higher education administration. I really like the position of dean because you really get to interact with scholars and artists of many different fields and facilitate the research and the teaching. Virginia Tech really is interested in international work, and has taken a leadership role in the area of diversity. And those are all very important values to me."

Another positive aspect of her new role as dean is the ability the college gives her to continue her own international work. Sue's past performance tours include Hungary, India, Taiwan and New Zealand. She also has taught acting classes overseas and taken students abroad to the Czech Republic, England and France.

"I have several different one-woman shows/performances, and I tour these around the world," Sue said. "Usually wherever I am, I'm also available to teach a class or set up an art collaboration that I can bring back to Virginia Tech."

The Duncan native, mother of two and a proud grandmother, fondly remembers her four years at Oklahoma Christian. She says her most memorable times were spent in the theater department, acting in many of the school's productions.

"I pretty much lived in the theater," she said.

During Sue's freshman year, she played the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.

"That was just wonderful, because it really got me involved right away," she said.

Another one of her favorite OC productions was the comedy, You Can't Take It with You.

Sue is grateful for her OC experience, which she says laid an excellent foundation for her career and her spiritual life. The nurturing, Christian atmosphere helped her focus on her education, rather than be distracted by the common pitfalls of many college students.

Sue looks forward to making a difference on a campus that has been through so much. She loves the many hats she has worn throughout her career, and will continue to work toward her goals.

"I have the desire to see people and their passions flourish," she said. "As I have moved from teaching into chairing the department of theater into working as a dean, I find that each of these positions provides greater opportunities to help others realize their dreams."

by Rachel Yeakley