Face to face:

Published 9:21 am Tuesday, April 30, 2013

AHOSKIE – Those with a hand in guiding the decision to hire the new president of Roanoke-Chowan Community College have now seen and heard from the three finalists.

In a series of separate public forums conducted on Thursday and Friday, Mr. Michael Elam, Dr. Peggy Bradford and Dr. Algie Gatewood were each put under the local microscope. The trio took turns at the podium inside the Jernigan Building auditorium, coming face to face with curious faculty and staff as well as members of the general public.

Dr. Peggy Bradford chats with Dan Joyner of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce after she made her pitch last week to become the next president of Roanoke-Chowan Community College. Staff Photos by Cal Bryant

Dr. Peggy Bradford chats with Dan Joyner of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce after she made her pitch last week to become the next president of Roanoke-Chowan Community College. Staff Photos by Cal Bryant

Each candidate made a brief opening statement followed by answering three general questions. The remainder of the questions came from the audience, each asked by the moderator. The majority of those questions were from RCCC faculty and staff members and dealt with internal issues.

Those in attendance at each, one-hour forum were asked to fill out a comment form. Those forms will be given to the RCCC Board of Trustees as they now weigh their decision on which of the three candidates to recommend to the State Community College Board for appointment. The State Board is tasked with making the final selection.

Elam, a native of Henderson in Vance County, has experienced many stops along his 30-plus year educational administration journey, to include Kentucky, Illinois, Florida and Texas. In Florida he was in charge of Student Services at the second largest community college in the state.

“This is like coming home,” Elam said in his opening remarks. “This position is all about teaching and learning and I’ve become a real advocate, I’m so passionate about the community college experience. None of us came into the educational business to get rich. We came in because we enjoy seeing that light bulb go off in the mind of a student, thus changing their lives. There’s no greater satisfaction than changing an individual’s life and making it better….and that’s what community colleges do so well.”

Dr. Michael Elam (left) is greeted after his remarks on Thursday. Elam is one of three finalists for the RCCC President’s position.

Dr. Michael Elam (left) is greeted after his remarks on Thursday. Elam is one of three finalists for the RCCC President’s position.

“If you look at my career you will see that I’ve been at colleges at a time when they were making change and I was able to help shepherd that change to the next level,” he added. “But now I’m on the downside of my working career and I’m looking for an institution that I can get my arms around and become a part of….a place where I can settle and be a part of the growth of the college and the community around it.”

Elam stated that his goal, if hired at RCCC, is to make both the school and the community competitive in the global market. He added that he has a “participatory style of leadership; it takes all of us, world-class individuals, to make this college a leader in education while listening to the needs of our local community.”

Bradford is a native of Pulaski, Illinois, a small town of less than 500 residents in the southwestern corner of the state. She said it was common for those living there to have to drive upwards to three hours to obtain most all the necessities of life. Bradford, who holds a law degree and is a former prosecutor, is the mother of three adult children. Her husband is also in education.

“I grew up in an area where the local community college held the key to your future,” Bradford said. “I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen here in this community. You have the Early College High School here on your campus. This college has a sound relationship with the local public school system.”

Following his presentation at RCCC on Friday, Dr. Algie Gatewood (center) holds a discussion with Hertford County Public Schools officials, to include Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry (right).

Following his presentation at RCCC on Friday, Dr. Algie Gatewood (center) holds a discussion with Hertford County Public Schools officials, to include Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry (right).

Gatewood made it clear during his presentation on Friday morning that he was ready to move back to North Carolina (a native of Anson County, southeast of Charlotte). He is currently serving as president of the Cascade campus of Portland (Oregon) Community College. He has been in Portland for the past nine years.

“I’m very interested in this position for a number of reasons,” Gatewood said during his opening remarks. “The primary reason is that I understand the value of education. Coming from a very rural community, from a small town very similar to Ahoskie, I understand how important it is to gain a good education. Education makes the difference, it is the equalizer…it gives us the possibility to go beyond, to take us where our dreams lead us.”

Gatewood said that by growing up in a small, rural community there was not a lot of access to opportunities when he was a child. Today’s technology, he said, can take a child from a rural area far beyond the walls of their community.

“Although we had few resources and came from a very poor family (neither of his parents were able to complete high school), all five of the children managed to earn Bachelor’s degrees and four of us earned advanced degrees,” he said. “That’s why Roanoke-Chowan Community College is so valuable to this community, it can reach out and provide educational opportunities.”

 General Questions:

 Please share with us why you think you should be the next president of Roanoke-Chowan Community College.

 Elam – “I believe you are looking for someone with a vision for the future; somebody with a commitment to service, and you want to find somebody with a commitment to community….you want to find somebody like me. After listening to the people of this college, to include the students, and the people of this community, I believe I know where this institution ought to be and where it needs to be. It’s a shared vision and it needs to be shared because we can all visualize that future and we all need to be a part of an exciting future at this college. I’ve done this before at other colleges and have been very successful. This is my calling in life and this job is where I need to be, joining with our corporate and business partners to move this college into the future.”

Bradford – “In looking back over my educational and work experience, this is the job I’ve been planning for all of my life. I understand small towns and the critical role that a community college plays in advancing the economic agenda of those towns. I see your long range goals. I see the programs you offer…..they are beneficial for the work offered locally and an education here is able to take your students a long way. You focus on quality. I believe I can help lead the expansion, the growth and the direction you want to go here. Any vision that I have matches the needs of the community. I’m just here as an instrument to help you move that agenda forward.”

Gatewood – “I have a skill set that very closely matches the needs of this college. Throughout my career I’ve been able to help colleges grow (his current college has grown its FTE by 72% since 2005). There’s the potential for growth here. There are people within this community who are not being served and I have the background to reach out to them. I also have (college) presidential experience. I have experience in running a campus and how to utilize resources, including working with faculty and staff. I have experience with dealing with the community surrounding a college. I immerse myself in the community, becoming a part of it. That’s important when it comes to fundraising as well as connecting the local public schools, business and industry, and other colleges to this college. As a native of this state I also understand North Carolina…its government, the people who make decisions about funding, its community college system and its many public/private colleges/universities.”  

 Please describe your financial management experience.

Elam – “I have had the opportunity over my career to manage budgets as much as $32 million as president at the College of the Mainland in Texas. When I left an institution, they were in a better financial state. We were always able to give back to our employees. I require a lot of participation from our employees in the process of operating a college and I feel it’s proper to reward them in performance enhancement (bonuses). I manage budgets transparently and openly.”

Bradford – “I’ve looked at the budget here – $6.5 million – and there looks to be around $500,000 that you can move around. My management style is that everyone needs to know how much money you have. Everybody needs to participate….see where the dollars are coming from and how those dollars are allocated. When there are different departments here competing for those budget dollars, they all need to be in the same room and have the chance to present a proposal and we decide as a collective group where the money needs to go.”

Gatewood – “I started with relatively small budgets early in my career. When I worked for state government my budget was about $58 million. We had very good audits. Presently I am responsible for a $41 million budget. I can certainly utilize my budgeting skills here. Hopefully we can grow that budget and bring greater resources to this college.”

 How would you spend your first 60 days as President?

Elam – “This business is all about relationships and communication. The first 60 days will be a huge learning curve for me. I’ve got to learn the existing policies and procedures of the college. But more importantly I’ve got to learn who you are, those who will help us accomplish our goals. I will send our faculty and staff a list of questions prior to my arrival to find out from you where you see this college now and in the future. I also need to meet the key people in the community, listen to them to see how they feel about what we offer and how we can make it better. That helps me to focus on meeting the needs of this college.”

Bradford – “I will individually meet with the various organizations, and individuals with the college, both internally and externally, to get a true sense about what are the priorities, what are your interests and how can I assist. I want to do a listening tour to find out exactly what it is you expect from your next president. The listening tour gives me a road map that will guide me in making sure that I’m the president you want me to be, not the president I want to be.

Gatewood – “Involve myself in this community; get out and meet people. I’d like to go out in each town within the areas served by this college and conduct a listening tour. I need to hear from the community what they think we need to be doing, what we can do better. There is also a need for this college to develop a comprehensive marketing/public relations plan. This is not just about advertising, but rather understanding what this community needs, knowing who’s in the community and working to connect the college to the community. I also need to find out the needs of our business community so we can align our course offerings here to meet their needs. Other places to connect this college to the community are through the faith-based community and through local, regional and state government.”

In December of last year, Bradford was chosen as the interim president at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC). She had served as BCCC’s Vice President of Academic Affairs prior to accepting the interim president’s position. Previously, Bradford served as Dean of Academic Affairs/Chief Academic Administrator at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio.

Elam serves as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. Previously, he served as Interim Chancellor for Central Louisiana Technical Community College, and Sowela Technical and Community College in Louisiana. Prior to that, Elam served as the sixth President of College of the Mainland in Texas City, Texas, a single campus district serving the 13 cities of Galveston County with an approximate enrollment of 13,000 students.

Prior to his job in Oregon, Gatewood was Director of Health, Education and Welfare/Assistant Director of the North Carolina State Education Assistant Authority, an administrative unit of the University of North Carolina.

The search for a new president became necessary when the RCCC trustees, in a 9-2 vote, opted to end the employment contract of Dr. Ralph Soney on Sept. 11, 2012. He had been at RCCC since late 2005.

In the interim, RCCC has contracted with Dr. Harold Mitchell to serve as president. He is no stranger to the college, having served as president from 1987-2000.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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