Rachel Fowlkes spent most of her three-decade education career at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center (SWVHEC) in Abingdon as the founding executive director and state agency head. Under her leadership from 1992 until her retirement in 2015, the center partnered with 10 colleges and universities throughout Virginia.
During Fowlkes’ tenure at the SWVHEC, the University of Virginia (UVA), UVA at Wise, Virginia Commonwealth University and Radford University began offering advanced healthcare degrees at the Higher Education Center. These include nursing, certified registered nurse anesthesia, clinical lab technology and clinical mental health counseling. Graduates of these programs have filled hundreds of positions in hospitals, clinics and outpatient surgery centers across Southwest Virginia.
Prior to her role at the SWVHEC, Fowlkes served as the state coordinator of education programs at the University of Virginia, Division of Continuing Education from 1990 to 1992, and as the director of the University of Virginia, Division of Continuing Education, Southwest Regional Center, from 1983 to 1990.
Since her retirement, Fowlkes has continued to collaborate with the SWVHEC and its university partners to help meet the regional employment needs. She also serves on several boards in addition to the Wellspring Foundation board, including the Radford University Board of Visitors, Radford University Foundation and Virginia Creeper Trail Advisory Board.
Fowlkes has also served on the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator Board; Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission; Appalachian Regional Commission — Export Trade Advisory Committee; Virginia Commission of Higher Education Reform, Innovation, and Investment; and on the Board of Trustees of the Johnston Memorial Healthcare Foundation. She also served as the secretary of the Town of Abingdon Economic Development Authority.
Fowlkes earned her bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, her master’s degree from Mississippi State University and her doctor of education from the University of Virginia.