Title: Associate VP of Workforce, Business and Allied Health at Central Virginia Community College
You’ve been with CVCC for more than a decade, but you just stepped into a new role. Tell us about this new title.
This is actually the combining of two positions. I started with CVCC in 2004 and worked in the workforce division. Then, I moved over to the academic side and was the Dean of Business and Allied Health for 10 years. Now, I’m essentially doing both.
What is the college trying to accomplish?
The concept is a one-door approach. In the past if students were to come into our counseling area, the counselors were doing what they’ve been trained to do—guiding students into some sort of academic program. Now what we are trying to do is tell students there are alternatives. A two-year degree might not be what they are looking for. There are a lot of things we do here that are very short term that can lead to immediate employment with good pay.
And those jobs with good salaries can lead them back to CVCC in some cases, right?
Exactly. It’s no secret that tuition has accelerated, here and across the state. We’ve seen students borrowing the money to go to school for one or two years. By looking at some alternative career paths, we can get students a credential and get them employed. Then if they want to come back to school and earn that two-year degree, they are earning a salary that’s sufficient to pay that tuition and they don’t have to go into debt. There is more student debt in the U.S. right now than credit card debt.
But you aren’t backing off your degree programs.
Not at all. That is still the heart and soul of what we do here. We are trying to improve our customer service and have full disclosure with our students, explaining to them their options.
For example, there is a company we work with where we hand pick a couple of classes that train students exactly like the company wants so they can get a job. The company doesn’t necessarily care that they have taken sociology and psychology. Those are great subjects to learn and can complement a person, but for the available job, they aren’t necessary.
This new concept and your position started up in May. How are things going so far?
We are doing some joint classes, which has never been done before. For example, I’m using more of the credit faculty to teach in some of the credentialing courses. We are beginning to look at things in a much different way. I think it’s an eye-opening thing for everyone, that there is an approach we can take to better serve the community.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I guess I would call it “management by walking around.” The main thing I try to do is no one works for me, I work with people. I try to stay in constant contact with my employees and I try to be open and frank, and have good conversations with them.
But I’ve also found in today’s society there are so many leaders that feel compelled to always get their employees’ input on every little detail. What I’ve found over the years is there are a number of employees who are crying out, “You’re the leader, be the leader. Tell me what’s expected of me and I will do it.”
When you look back at your career, are there any learning experiences that stand out in your mind?
I’ve learned the hard way that businesses are always somewhat critical of the educational system—whether at the public school level, community college level or university level. A classic experience I had back in North Carolina was with the construction industry. They were desperate for us to help them get people to become brick masons. So we started a program, had several larger brick manufacturers contribute—we had materials and faculty.
What did I learn? That bricks and rocks are heavy. The students, regardless of the salary, were saying, “I don’t want to do this.” That’s the lesson you need to learn and the industry needs to learn. It’s not just us—some of these jobs… it’s just almost impossible to sell to students. The businesses have to do more to make that an attractive situation for students. Businesses have to lead the way.
Do you have any mantras or sayings that get you through tough days?
My dad was quite a character growing up. Being the son of a Green Beret was not exactly an easy path! One of the things I think of when I reflect on growing up with him is… you can make some of the people happy some of the time but not everyone all of the time. You can’t win them all. It’s just not going to happen.
How do you handle conflict? Do you have a certain method you follow?
Take a little time out and step back from the situation. Too often we say things we can’t take back. I think my staff would say I’m kind of old school. (In more ways than one!) Instead of responding to an email, I will go to the person and talk to them. Emails are so often misinterpreted.
Do you have any advice for others who want a career in higher education?
One thing that is very important for any potential administrator is teaching experience—it’s invaluable.
It gives you perspective?
Right, it helps you to understand the role of the teacher and also gives you such an important perspective of students too. So find a subject you love, teach for a while and enjoy it.
What’s life like for you outside of work? How do you relax and unwind?
I’m a farmer; I raise cattle. (Although my wife says I raise more cane than I do cattle!) I really enjoy being on a tractor. I love my four-wheeler and being out in the woods. I can go and do manual work and that’s really relaxing for me. And I love to see something grow, I love gardening. All of this is paradise for me.