Marcus Thompson, the newly appointed president of Jackson State University, has finalized six key administrative hires as his tenure reaches the two-month mark.

That includes Alla Jeanae Frank, a former assistant commissioner of operations at the Institutions of Higher Learning, who will now serve as a special assistant to the president. Another familiar face is Van Gillespie, a former assistant commissioner of legal affairs at IHL, who is now Thompson’s chief of staff.

Gillespie started Dec. 1. He graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law and served as general counsel to the board of trustees during the same years that Thompson worked at the higher education agency as chief administrative officer. 

Both men came to IHL under the aegis of former commissioner Hank Bounds. Together, Thompson and Gillespie have significant insight into the inner workings of the often-opaque governing board that oversees Mississippi’s eight public universities, including Jackson State.

At IHL meetings, Gillespie could usually be seen sitting to the side of the trustees, and he was privy to the board’s executive sessions. 

In a press release, Thompson described the new members of his administrative team as “servant leaders.”

“Combined with the knowledge and passion of my existing cabinet members, this is the genesis of an incredible dream team to execute a strong pathway to success for JSU’s future,” he said.

Credit: Courtesy Jackson State University

Thompson also hired a new vice president for enrollment management whom IHL approved last week. (Gillespie’s hire as chief of staff did not need to be approved by IHL, according to a JSU spokesperson.) 

Kylon Alford-Windfield, a Jackson native, will make $150,000. He was previously the vice president for enrollment management at Stillman College, a private historically black college in Alabama, where he oversaw a “notable increase in enrollment,” according to JSU’s press release. He has also worked at two other historically Black schools, Mississippi Valley State University and Rust College. 

Like Thompson, Alford-Windfield is a recent graduate of Jackson State’s executive doctoral program in urban higher education, which was created to prepare diverse students to assume leadership roles at colleges and universities. Alford-Windfield is also a member of the same fraternity as Thompson, Kappa Alpha Psi. 

Thompson also made what appear to be two internal promotions. ConSandra McNeil, who recently served as an associate provost at Jackson State, is now the interim vice president of research and economic development. Mitchell Shears, the associate vice president for student success, will oversee the university’s federal funds and act as chief liasion for the leadership team.

At JSU, Shears “spearheaded the return of TRIO programs to JSU with 16 competitively funded programs – the most in the state and most on an HBCU campus,” according to JSU’s press release.

Onetta Starling Whitley, the first Black woman to serve as a deputy attorney general in the state of Mississippi, is Thompson’s new general counsel. After she retired from state service in 2020, Starling Whitley joined W T Consultants as a registered lobbyist.

Edward Watson was formerly general counsel at JSU.

Higher education reporter at Mississippi Today in partnership with Open Campus.