Valerie Simmons-Walston: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

In the fusion of academia, Valerie Simmons-Walston’s journey at the University of Toledo unfolds as a vibrant narrative. From assuming the mantle of Associate Vice President of Student Services, orchestrating a symphony that included Residence Life, Housing, the Student Recreation Center, the Counseling Center, and the Student Union, to her rise as the Interim Vice President/Vice Provost — she is a sight to see, a beam of light waltzing through our Glass City corridors of leadership.

Walston was appointed to the position of the University of Toledo’s Special Advisor to the President for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships back in July 2022. In this role, she’s proven herself to be a true educational maestro, leading the University’s orchestra of community collaboration with Rocket pride. As a virtuoso in weaving bonds, Walston manages a joint advisory board uniting community luminaries and UToledo stalwarts alike.

Beyond UT’s ivory towers, Walston embraces the rhythm of community service. “As Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Toledo, I stepped into the spotlight during the Hussain lecture series, where I shared my wellness journey,” explains Walston.

As co-mistress of ceremonies at the African American Festival/Concert, she commanded attention in a crowd of 4,000, leaving an indelible mark. Her commitment also extends beyond Toledo as an active contributor to service projects through her sisterhood with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

“It was a real honor to be recognized for my outstanding community engagement in July 2023,” shares Walston. “It was one of my proudest moments receiving the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union’s service award.”

In a stream of upcoming endeavors, 2024 promises new movement. “I support  the Women’s Day initiatives for St. Paul’s Baptist Church and was honored to be asked to take the baton as the chair for the American Heart Association Heart Ball,” she shares.

All-in-all Miss Valerie is an amazing role model, composing the next verses of her impactful melody in the grand opera of leadership and community service.

She encourages residents to visit the University and to get involved.

The University of Toledo’s innovation section of its website showcases a crescendo of entrepreneurial spirit, spotlighting UT’s LaunchPad incubation program. Since 2014, over 250 entrepreneurs have danced through its doors, creating an arrangement of nearly 250 jobs and orchestrating a financial cadence with nearly $30,000,000 in sales revenue and professional investment.

Walston goes on to explain: “78 percent of 2017 College of Business and Innovation graduates found employment in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. A statistic we are very proud of!”

In the expansive landscape of educational advocacy, Valerie Simmons-Walston navigates the shifting tides with a commitment to inclusivity. Recognizing the challenges posed by the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC, which altered the trajectory of affirmative action, Walston remains steadfast in fostering educational opportunities for people of color.

In the heart of Ohio, where traditions are woven into the fabric of communities, Walston embraces the inclusive ethos that defines her approach. She understands that the Midwest and Ohio, often regarded as incubators for success in academia, can serve as beacons of inspiration for the nation. In NW Ohio, where challenges and triumphs echo through the corridors of education, Walston champions a narrative that transcends boundaries.

In the face of adversity, Walston saw an opportunity to create a model that reflects the diversity and resilience of the Midwest. She envisions an educational landscape that not only defies the limitations imposed by recent legal decisions but also stands as a testament to the region’s commitment to inclusive excellence.

“UToledo launched a new initiative in 2022 to enhance its community engagement efforts,” she shares.

In the domain of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships (CESP), a tale unfolds—a story of interconnected pillars that form the very foundation of collaboration and community harmony Walston practices.

“I not only engage with stakeholders and collaborate with community leaders, I also keep a thorough documentation of our efforts,” she says.

“We ensure that the conversation on educational opportunities becomes a chorus of voices that best represent the University of Toledo. I encourage dialogues that span across demographics, fostering an environment where everyone’s narrative contributes to the collective story of progress.”

Walston goes on to explain UT’s 8 Pillars of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships—each pillar a guardian of a unique stepping stone.

  1. Intentional Data Collection: In the quiet chambers of the university, CESP plays the role of a wise scribe, diligently collecting data. Every piece of information becomes a chapter, weaving a story that chronicles the profound impact on the community and the bonds forged in the name of strategic collaboration.
  2. Strategically Focused Communication: The communication orchestrated by CESP is not a chaotic cacophony, but one that is carefully composed and strategically played. Each note resonates through the campus, amplifying the history of partnerships and initiatives that echo like a magical tune.
  3. Sustain University Classifications: As a protective guardian, CESP watches over the classifications of Carnegie and IEP. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, is a framework for classifying colleges and universities in the United States. An Individualized Education Program is a legal document under United States law that is developed for each public school child in the U.S. who needs special education. Like a mystical artifact, these classifications are preserved, ensuring that the legacy of excellence reverberates through the University.
  4. Support Service-Learning, Academic Engagement & Student Success: In the vibrant garden of learning, CESP is the nurturing soil where seeds of service-learning, academic engagement, and student success take root. Each student’s journey becomes a blooming flower, enriching both the university and surrounding communities.
  5. Showcase Signature Partnerships: Like treasured relics in an ancient gallery, CESP proudly displays its signature partnerships. Each partnership is a masterpiece, telling the story of a harmonious collaboration between the university and its esteemed allies.
  6. Enhance Community-Based Health Care Initiatives: CESP, a healer in its own right, is embarking on a quest to enhance community-based health care initiatives. It’s quickly becoming the guardian local of well-being, fostering a landscape where wellness blossoms as a collective endeavor.
  7. Champion Internal/External Collaborative Partnerships: CESP stands tall as a champion, a bridge between realms of internal and external collaboration. Like a skilled diplomat, it forges alliances that transcend boundaries, creating a tapestry of unity.
  8. Ignite Forward Thinking: Innovation & Technology: In the ever-evolving landscape, CESP emerges as a beacon, lighting the way for forward thinking. It’s a magical flame of innovation and technology, guiding the university towards a future illuminated by progress.

Walston goes on to explain, “We also have 4 Areas of Engagement:”

  1. People: Each individual meeting is a chapter in the enchanted book of connection. Whether it’s a dialogue, a relationship-building endeavor, or a collaborative discussion, every touchpoint paints a unique interaction, adding depth to the narrative.
  2. Projects: Projects, like the chapters of an epic saga, are the long-term tasks that compose the opus of impact. Their outcomes resonate through internal and external partnerships, shaping the story of CESP’s influence.
  3. Partnerships: The dance of partnerships is a choreography of reciprocity. From Toledo Excel to the University of Toledo Foundation, each partner contributes to a synchronized performance—a dance that enriches the community and brings joy to every corner.
  4. Media/Speaking Engagements: CESP, like a seasoned storyteller, engages in media and speaking engagements. It narrates tales of community impact, with each event and partner becoming a captivating chapter in their evolving saga of collaboration.

In Walston’s vision, the Midwest becomes not just an incubator for academic success, but a crucible of inclusivity. “By embracing the diverse perspectives and experiences within our region, I aim to illuminate a path forward—one where equal access to education thrives, irrespective of the challenges that may arise,” she says.

On the University of Toledo’s website, a poignant encore comes from the heart of its students, who, during the fall semester, volunteered over 18,500 hours. Their altruistic endeavors, a powerful journey through tutoring, mentoring, serving meals and beautifying neighborhoods, compose a story that reverberates beyond the classrooms. In this symphony of service, 2,168 undergraduate students, learning through hands-on experiences, contributed over 380,000 hours—a testament to the University’s commitment to enriching lives and composing a legacy of community impact.

As the story continues to unfold, the 2023-2024 CESP forecast becomes even more than just a plan; it’s a celebration of aspirations, committees, and upcoming dates—a crescendo building towards a future where community engagement is not just a task but a way of life. Each committee plays a distinct role in this enchanted masterpiece, ensuring that the rhythm of impact continues to echo throughout the University of Toledo, creating a tale for generations to come.

Through her inclusive leadership, VP Valerie Simmons-Walston is transforming the narrative while turning obstacles into opportunities. The Midwest, under her stewardship, has become a beacon not only for academic accomplishments but for a harmonious and diverse approach to education—an approach that resonates far beyond state lines, inspiring others to emulate the inclusive successes of our Glass City.


Follow UT’s report highlights at