PEMBROKE — After 32 years of extraordinary service to UNC Pembroke in various leadership roles, interim Provost Dr. Zoe Locklear retires –– for a second time –– with lifelong friends and countless memories.
One of her most cherished memories is of a warm summer day in August 1988 — the day she was interviewed by then Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Charles Jenkins to become one of the first special education professors at her alma mater.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Locklear said.
Before her interview, she made a presentation to the education faculty –– many of whom were her former professors. Then Gerald Maynor, the department chair, escorted her to Jenkins’ office in Sampson Hall.
There, her nervousness eased after she received warm hugs from former Vice Chancellor James Chavis and Bertine Prine, executive assistant to former Chancellor Paul Givens.
“By the time I met with Dr. Jenkins, I felt calmer but also felt an incredible sense of pride at having reached this professional milestone. I also felt a strong sense of responsibility to do a good job and make all these people proud of my work. In that moment, I knew that a lot of great people had worked long and hard to make the university a great place, and it was going to be my job to continue this work on behalf of the students.”
Locklear was hired and the rest –– as the saying goes –– is history.
She rose to department chair, then founding dean of the School of Education, before retiring as provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs in 2017. Following a career that spanned three decades, the Pembroke native is filled with a tangle of emotions.
“I feel joyous, thankful, sad, appreciative and humbled,” she said. “I’ve had an incredible career doing the work that I’ve loved: serving UNCP, the public schools of North Carolina, working with incredible colleagues across this great state, helping young people become teachers –– especially teachers of children with special needs –– preparing principals, particularly for school districts in southeastern NC.”
Dr. Locklear returned to UNCP in 2019 to lead the School of Education as interim dean, then interim provost in 2020.
Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings described Locklear as a true champion for UNCP.
“When her university called, she returned from retirement to lead once again, through what turned out to be one of the most challenging times our university has faced as we navigated a global pandemic,” Cummings said.
“Her commitment to UNCP is inspiring. I’m honored we were able to award her as provost emeritus, signifying her impact and dedicated leadership to our university.”
Locklear is the first-ever administrator to earn provost emeritus status after receiving unanimous approval from the Board of Trustees.
Locklear was hired in 1988 — the same year the university was launching a new special education program. She replaced retiring professor Dr. Jesse Lamm, her former professor, mentor and role model later in life.
“I was his protégé of sorts and it was an honor to try to fill his shoes,” she said. “He started the special education program and without the timing of my enrolling at Pembroke, I’m not sure where my career would have gone.”
During her tenure, Locklear helped to establish the birth-kindergarten education program, a licensure program in English as a Second Language (ESL), a licensure program in academically and intellectually gifted education, and the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree. She also helped reestablish the Masters of School Administration (MSA) program.
Locklear is also credited with achieving state and national accreditation for the School of Education’s undergraduate and graduate programs –– a noteworthy accomplishment. Additionally, she was responsible for the program maintaining approval every five years for 25 years –– a requirement needed to offer programs that lead to North Carolina licenses.
She was also instrumental in forming assurance agreements with Tuskegee University’s Pre-Veterinary Program, Methodist University’s Physician Assistant Program as well as N.C. State University’s College of Engineering and College of Veterinary Medicine.
She capped off her career by working alongside faculty to gain approval for two degree programs –– a Master of Occupational Therapy and bachelor’s degree in Cybersecurity — approved by the Board of Governors on her last day. In her final week, she finalized the national searches and hiring of new deans of the School of Business and College of Health Sciences.
“My best memories are of working with faculty across the university on countless projects and policies, especially those times we were working across the campus-wide education program toward NCATE accreditation,” Locklear said.
While Locklear is sure to leave a lasting and transformative legacy, she says the most rewarding aspect of her career was knowing she helped others.
“Whether it was as provost or dean, or a member of the State Board of Education, or as a teacher or administrator, I tried to make things better for children and their families.”
Locklear says she’ll miss the daily camaraderie and the satisfaction she felt from teamwork and accomplishments.
“The university has meant so much to my family. My husband, Thomas, and I raised our children, Matthew and Elizabeth, around this campus, and that was a beautiful thing. We have all benefitted from my life’s work in so many ways, and I am so grateful. My heart is full, but I’m satisfied. I’ve worked hard and have loved it, but it’s time for a slower, kinder, gentler pace.”