Hello, my name is…..

Published 9:55 am Monday, June 27, 2016

Shaw University Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Stanley Elliott (left), a candidate for President of Roanoke-Chowan Community College, chats with Susan Melton (center) and George Holley during a public forum of all the candidates held Thursday on campus. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Shaw University Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Stanley Elliott (left), a candidate for President of Roanoke-Chowan Community College, chats with Susan Melton (center) and George Holley during a public forum of all the candidates held Thursday on campus. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

AHOSKIE – All eyes were focused on the stage inside the Roanoke-Chowan Community College auditorium here Thursday.

There, members of the local community mixed in with RCCC staff members as they sat, listened, and even asked a few questions directed towards three men, each vying to become the college’s next president.

As scheduled, RCCC’s Board of Trustees hosted a public forum, granting one hour each to presidential hopefuls Dr. Stanley Elliott, Dr. Gary Brown, and Dr. Jimmy Tate to state the reasons why they should be considered for the job.

For Elliott – who drew the first hour’s time slot – it was all about a chance to come home.

RCCC presidential candidate Dr. Gary Brown addresses the audience in the college auditorium on Thursday. | Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

RCCC presidential candidate Dr. Gary Brown addresses the audience in the college auditorium on Thursday. | Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Dr. Stanley Elliott

Currently a Vice-President for Student Affairs at Shaw University, Elliott is a native of Edenton.

“I’d love to come back home,” said Elliott, resplendent in grey suit and speckled-blue bowtie. “God gave me an opportunity to experience other institutions and I feel I can bring an unmatched work ethic, and I also bring a keen knowledge of northeastern North Carolina.”

During the question-and-answer period, two RCCC faculty members, both Deans, Myra Poole and Monique Mitchell, asked Elliott about his experience and management style.

A magna cum laude graduate of Elizabeth City State, who later matriculated at N.C. Central and N.C. State – where he received a doctorate in public administration and educational research – Elliott referred often at the forum to ‘relationship-building’.

“I believe in assessment,” he remarked when asked about his management style. “A visionary leader learns needs. Vision without provision is an illusion. I have to be a part of the community; not just to be seen, but to be seen working.

“Grant-writing and fund-raising go hand-in-hand,” he added. “Influence does not always need affluence. Relationships allow people to see life in a different way.”

Dr. Jimmy Tate holds a discussion following his one-hour session before the general public and RCCC staffers. | Staff Photo by Keith Hoggard

Dr. Jimmy Tate holds a discussion following his one-hour session before the general public and RCCC staffers. | Staff Photo by Keith Hoggard

Elliott said he wants to recruit more business for non-traditional students and thus raise the enrollment of RCCC.

“When you come out of high school it’s about ‘boots’ (military service), ‘books’ (college), or ‘business’ (the workaday world),” he maintained.

Asked about the challenge of transportation for RCCC students, Elliott said he hoped to enlist the faith-based community and its resources (church vans and buses) to aid students met with that challenge.

Larry Donley, Regional Director of NC Works, quizzed Elliott on his vision of workforce development.

“We need to approach businesses about their needs and try to tweak our programs to fit those needs,” Elliott noted. “We need to make employers aware that workforce training and workforce development equals a graduate of Roanoke-Chowan Community College.”

In his closing, Elliott pledged to work with the local town and county boards of commissioners to raise the profile of RCCC. He hoped students would adopt the mentality of a line he quoted from poet Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Mother to Son’: “Life ain’t been no crystal stair, but I’m still climbing.”

Dr. Gary Brown

At age 56 and the father of two adult children, Dr. Brown touted his experience as a veteran educational administrator. Brown has been with Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania for the past 27 years in a variety of administrative roles, including Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for the entire University, Executive Vice President, Executive Dean, and Associate Dean of Student Services.

During his time Mercyhurst University’s branch campus, Brown said he grew enrollment from 148 to 1,110 students and a fundraising arm that generated millions of dollars.

In 2011, he became the Chief Financial Officer of the main campus of Mercyhurst, where over 600 were employed full-time and with an operating budget in excess of $120 million. Student enrollment was over 1,400.

“One of the things I can bring here to Roanoke-Chowan is that I’ve learned that success is not always tied to what a president can and cannot do,” Dr. Brown remarked. “It’s a team effort; and it’s a student-centered/student-focused faculty. It’s all about rowing in the same direction; that’s what makes it fun to come to work.”

Using a sports analogy, Brown said a coach can be blessed with a very gifted team, but they do not perform well together because they do not have a talented leader.

“A coach doesn’t win games, it’s about team chemistry and a college presidency is the same way….you help direct the team to play well together,” he said.

Fielding general questions, Brown addressed the obvious; what makes him the ideal choice as R-CCC’s next president.

“From what I’ve learned looking at all the data here, there’s some areas that need improvement on campus,” Brown stated. “Looking at (student) retention rates, where you stack up against other community colleges I see there’s some work to be done. I’ve done all those things.

“It’s my job as a leader to help everybody else do their job a little bit better,” Brown continued. “I’m a team-centered, student-centered individual. If that’s what this school is looking for, then I fit that bill. I’ve held nearly every position there is on a college or university campus. I know how to effect change.”

Another question was how his management style moved an initiative forward. He cited a time at the branch campus of Mercyhurst where an idea surfaced of adding a night/weekend slate of classes to its Registered Nursing program to fit the lifestyles of the students who also worked while enrolled in school. He said the eventual move to facilitate that program was met with opposition from the nursing program’s teaching staff, but it enrolls over 100 students today.

“Sometimes you just have to go with your gut rather than what the staff is telling you,” he noted. “Sometimes the risk is worth the reward. If it winds up going sour, then step up and take responsibility for your actions…don’t pass the buck.”

In fielding a few questions from those assembled at the public forum, Brown answered inquiries on the importance of advocacy, institutional change, workforce development, and the GED program.

In the area of advocacy, Brown said it’s a given that a community college president lives and interacts within the service area of that institution.

“You have to be out and about in the community you serve,” he said. “You need to join clubs and organizations in order to network. You need to join a local church. As far as fundraising, the first thing you do is friend-raising; that’s where you drum-up support for your institution.”

As far as institutional change is concerned, Brown stressed the importance of being open and transparent.

“Change always happens, but initially I need to learn what works here and what does not before instituting change,” he stressed. “What worked for me at Mercyhurst may not work here. I need to learn the culture here and then make decisions.”

While his previous jobs have not dealt directly with workforce development, Brown said the concept was relatively simple.

“The businesses reach out to the college, telling them their needs, and then we provide it,” Brown stated. “It’s a win-win deal. The business, the college, and the community all win.”

In the area of GED, Brown said his mother dropped out of school at 17 and went back at age 40 to receive her GED.

“That was the proudest moment of her life, other than giving birth to me,” he laughed. “But, seriously, those that return as adults to better themselves are to be commended.

“Investing in your education is one of the best decisions a person can make in life,” Brown added.

In closing, Brown again spoke of the importance of education and the life experiences built during that time in school.

“I’ve worked my entire adult life in education and it’s been so rewarding,” he said. “It’s made a big impact on my life; I’ve transformed from being a student myself into a person who now helps and guides students in the right direction. I’m a walk-around-campus type of guy. I love interacting with the students.

“The greatest single day to me on a college campus is graduation day,” he continued. “You stand there, so proud of the accomplishments of your students, all while knowing the hurdles they jumped over just to cross that stage and accept a diploma. That diploma is their ticket to the workforce.”

Dr. Jimmy Tate

On why he should be the next president of RCCC, Tate said the college needed to work with all facets of the local community to truly be effective. As Vice President of James Sprunt Community College, he has experience working with staff and students to make their experiences fulfilling in community college.

He also said the college must establish a good relationship with local government. Tate cited his eight years as a county commissioner, two years as chairman, as evidence that he understands how local government works.

“I understand the role of local government,” Tate said. “I can also go to Raleigh as a public leader to the General Assembly and talk to representatives from both sides of the aisle.”

He said he had been appointed to state educational leadership posts by members of both political parties.

“We have to get bipartisan support at the state level for the needs of our small institution. I believe I can do that,” he said.

Tate stressed that stands ready to meet the needs of RCCC because he is well prepared….he has been a student, a teacher, a director, a supervisor, and a leader in the community college system.

“I am well prepared for this position,” Tate said. “I have a full understanding of the community college system.”

He said his leadership style is transformational and that he would work with staff to best meet the both their needs and the needs of the changing demographics of students.

Tate said his current community college meets the need of students, but the school closes at noon on Friday because it helps staff.

“I believe in transparent decision making,” Tate said. “You have to have clear communication with faculty, staff and students. We get collaborative input. Any decision will be based on that collaborative input.”

A question concerning being an active and effective advocate for RCCC brought an active response.

“I have experience rebranding and building relationships in the community. You have to build trust in the community,” Tate said. “You have to be among the people of the community. I’m going to go to the high schools. I’m going to go to the churches. I’m going go to Rotarian clubs. I’m going to go to where the people are.

“I will be out in the community where the people are,” Tate said. “I will work with all people; People of all races, religions, socio-economic situations.”

He said he will establish strong ties with all segments of the community because the better informed they are, the more likely they are to support RCCC.

Tate also said he will establish close ties with other community college presidents in the region to create a northeast partnership to better meet the needs of students and to be united if they have to go to Raleigh.

His last question concerned NC Works.

Tate said he now works with NC Works and will strive to get more students involved with the program.

In his closing statement, Tate said he is aware of some challenges at RCCC with stability and changing leadership.

“I believe strongly in getting suggestions from others,” he said.

He wants more college spirit to bring life to the community college experience.

“I’m a strong leader,” he said, “but I want input from you.”

He said he has an open door policy. People can stop by to talk to him during normal business hours, or make an appointment to speak.

“There are certain things about this community I don’t know,” Tate said. “Let me know. Talk to me.”

He concluded,” I want to rebrand college spirit. I want to be cheerleader for this great college.”

Current RCCC President Dr. Michael Elam tendered his resignation earlier in the spring, effective June 30, after two years in the post. Elam is currently a candidate for the presidency of Wayne Community College in Goldsboro.

Meanwhile, the RCCC Board of Trustees launched an extensive nationwide search for the next president that netted more than 50 applicants. The Board narrowed the applicant pool to 10 semi-finalists with assistance from a search firm, and then to the final three.

Feedback forms were handed out on Thursday during each of the three, one-hour sessions. Those completed forms will be forwarded to the RCCC Board of Trustees for review. The Board will then 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.