Betty Youngblood reflects on Oakland’s history

By Kevin Teller

To many, going to work each day can be a begrudging experience. However, for some it can have quite the opposite effect. Vice president for organizational development and strategic planning Betty Youngblood identifies with the latter.

“One of the things that’s kept me young throughout my entire career is that I’m always around [young people],” said Youngblood about her current experience at OU, “Oakland University was—and is today—an incredibly special place.”

Interacting with students is only part of what connects Youngblood so closely to her work though, as she is a graduate of OU herself. She said that this connection is a large part of why she still feels so passionately about the faculty and students to this day.

Graduating in 1965, Youngblood attended OU at an interesting time in the school’s history. When she first began attending in 1962, it wasn’t even OU at all. At that time the campus was referred to as Michigan State University—Oakland.

“Nobody actually graduated from Michigan State University—Oakland,” said Youngblood “But many of us were admitted…I had sweatshirts that said MSU—O across the front.”

Because of the historical oddity and significance of it, Youngblood said that she wishes she had kept some of those sweatshirts around.

While the school didn’t fully gain constitutional autonomy until 1970 when Don O’Dowd became the first president, the name did officially change in 1963, according to Youngblood.

The O’Dowds [Jan and Don] are two people that Youngblood highly credits for her positive experience attending OU. So much so in fact that she still retains close communication with them to this day, going to breakfast with them just last week while they were in town.

Youngblood credits the care and passion of all faculty members in those early days of OU’s history as a large part of the reason that she was able to succeed.

After graduation, Youngblood pursued a master’s degree in South Asian area studies and PhD in political science from the University of Minnesota. It was then that she began a career working in academia in various places, most notably Georgia and Oregon.

Returning to OU to work fulltime in 2011, Youngblood was hired to transfer programming over to the Macomb County campus, the Anton Frankel Center.

It was during this time that she made multiple presentations to the Board of Trustees concerning her work. Doing this turned out to be beneficial because after president Russi’s departure in 2013, Youngblood was asked to fill the role of interim president for the university.

Last year when George Hynd filled the permanent role of president, Youngblood stuck around. She was named vice president for organizational development and strategic planning by Hynd last September.

 “Oakland’s complexity has grown so significantly, but it has grown out of that strong foundation that the early faculty and staff created here,” said Youngblood, “And several decades of university history is really quite short. We’re still regarded as a young university.”

With this optimistic view on OU’s history, Youngblood also noted the evolution and potential for growth in and around the university’s current plans for development.