Lander University has selected Dr. Amanda Jane Darden to be its first Vice President for Student Experience and Quality Assurance.
Darden has served as the director of the Center for Excellence and Student Success at Coastal Carolina University since 2015. In that position, she supervises and leads the center’s team, and coordinates activities for student recruitment and retention, including academic success.
The new cabinet-level position at Lander, which Darden will begin in June, was created to develop and oversee initiatives that ensure a quality student experience that drives robust retention and graduation rates, said Lander President Richard Cosentino.
“As the fastest-growing public institution of higher education in South Carolina, Lander is committed to supporting students’ college-life experiences and their success,” he said. “Our growth represents a confidence among students and their parents that Lander is providing a solid academic experience for their futures. Throughout all campus departments, we are working diligently to provide a broad range of activities, services and programs that give students a well-rounded experience.”
Cosentino said Darden’s comprehensive background in higher education leadership will be beneficial to the University’s continued growth. “Dr. Darden has a proven record of higher education management in teaching, research, service and administration. Her student-focused experiences are relevant to the needs of our students, and we are pleased that she has chosen to continue her outstanding career in academic leadership at Lander.”
Darden’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and an M.Ed. in educational curriculum and instruction, both from Radford University. She completed her Ph.D. in higher education administration at Coastal Carolina in 2022.
Lander University’s reputation as a student-focused university with strong academic programs drew her to seek the new position. “I believe that Lander has found the ‘secret sauce’ for providing students with the appropriate challenges and opportunities for their optimal growth,” Darden said. “I want to be a part of a winning team, and my vision for leadership aligns very well with that of President Cosentino, as well as the other members of the leadership team at Lander.”
Making an impact in higher education for students is central to her career goals, Darden said, and she found that her enthusiasm for higher education success was shared by the faculty and staff at Lander.
“My first impression of Lander University was that it is a vibrant, thriving university with friendly and dedicated faculty and staff. They made me want to ‘jump on this train before it leaves the station without me,’” she said. “I see Lander as a first- choice institution for more and more students in South Carolina, and increasingly for out-of-state students.
Darden joined Coastal Carolina in 2011 as a student services coordinator and pre-major academic adviser. She became the director of Coastal’s Center for Excellence and Academic Advising in the Spadoni College of Education in 2014, and became the first director of the university’s Teaching Fellows Program in 2015. She has taught a wide array of courses focused on teaching instruction, foundations of education, and leadership, and has served as a university supervisor for physical and health education and early childhood education during her tenure at Coastal.
She has reviewed a number of professional scholarly journals focused on health, physical education and recreation, which serve current practitioners. Darden has also presented her research nationally on the subjects of educational leadership, curriculum, best teaching practices, and improving teacher knowledge, instruction and retention. Her current research has focused on summer bridge programs for first-generation college students, and the Georgetown Residence Program for graduate students. Additionally, she has been involved in research for Teach My People, a nonprofit organization that focuses on developing well-rounded students from underrepresented populations.
At Coastal, Darden has served on numerous committees and advisory boards, including serving as chair of the Teaching Fellows Advisory Board, the Student Success Directors team and the Coastal Scholarship Committee. A member of the board of directors of the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) since 2017, she is now CERRA’s board chair. She has served on the Spadoni College of Education Board of Visitors, as well as the College’s leadership team.
For 16 years, Darden has served the Horry County community as a youth sport director for Horry County Parks and Recreation, where she has designed and coordinated instructional sport leagues for children, and has taught approximately 8,000 children in the greater Horry County community.
Although she has received many awards related to advising and retention efforts over the years, Darden shared that she is most proud to have been named the 2022 Ph.D. candidate of the year for the inaugural doctoral class at Coastal Carolina University. “My leadership at the state level in teacher education has been a fulfilling journey, as well as starting the inaugural S.C. Teaching Fellows Program at Coastal.”
She is the mother of three children: Magdalyn, a rising junior and dance education major at the University of South Carolina; Fisher, an incoming freshman and health sciences major at Piedmont University, and Gus, a rising senior at Waccamaw High School. She is married to Gibson F. Darden, a professor of kinesiology at Coastal.
“I definitely feel immersed in the challenges and opportunities of higher education, and I’m ready to hit the ground running in June” she said.