Jack Bagwell said his first official day on campus Monday as College of The Albemarle’s new president only confirmed the positive impression he received when he first visited this summer.
“My initial impression of the college still is absolutely true,” Bagwell said Tuesday in an interview at his office on the college’s main campus in Elizabeth City. “It’s filled with dedicated people working together toward a common goal.”
Bagwell’s first day included tours of the Performing Arts Center, adult basic skills area, and cosmetology classroom. He learned about the upcoming performances of “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” which he said he’s looking forward to attending.
Bagwell said he saw the passion in the eyes of faculty and staff as he toured the campus.
“People wanted to show their programs off and talk about what they were doing,” he said.
COA trustees named Bagwell the college’s 11th president in September, choosing him over two other finalists to succeed Robert Wynegar, who resigned at the end of June. Travis Twiford, a retired school superintendent and university educator, has been serving as interim president since Wynegar’s departure.
Although Bagwell’s focus Monday and Tuesday was largely on the college’s main campus in Elizabeth City, he will be visiting COA’s campuses in Chowan, Currituck and Dare as the week progresses.
“I will be at every campus this week at some point,” Bagwell said. “It will be a busy first week.”
On Thursday he plans to spend most of the day in Edenton and Chowan County, touring the Edenton-Chowan campus and a number of businesses in the community. Patti Kersey, a county commissioner in Chowan who is also a COA trustee, is helping to organize and lead Bagwell’s tour in the county.
One of the hot topics in Chowan has been the business community’s desire to get a community college program to train truck drivers who can qualify for a commercial driver’s license.
Bagwell said starting a commercial driver’s license training program in Chowan in fall 2020 remains a college goal.
“We’re exploring those possibilities,” Bagwell said. “We’re still pursuing that.”
Bagwell said establishing partnerships to move the project forward is “one of the first orders of business.” Initially, the program would be offered through COA’s Continuing Education division.
“That’s the way we would look to start the program,” Bagwell said.
Bagwell said students and employers don’t necessarily care whether the truck-driving program is a credit or non-credit program.
“They just want the training,” he said. “Our goal is to help people get employed and to help the local economy by providing workers.”
Bagwell said the community college where he worked as chief academic officer before taking the job at COA — Piedmont Technical Community in Greenwood, S.C. — started a CDL training program a year ago in October.
“It’s a fantastic program,” Bagwell said. “It has just started to grow and that CDL (training) is a need.”
He noted a CDL program is expensive to start and operate.
With that in mind, Bagwell said Robin Zinsmeister, COA’s dean of workforce development, public services and career readiness, and Twiford have already been hard at work on the CDL program. They have been looking for partners to help with monetary or in-kind contributions to help start the program, he said.
“She’s made strides on the partnerships, which is wonderful,” Bagwell said of Zinmeister, who is also Edenton-Chowan’s campus administrator.
He said he also is pleased that COA is offering a pre-requisite training course for Telephonics, the aviation electronics firm that plans to add 75 new jobs in Pasquotank County. The pre-requisite course is designed to help prepare local residents to apply for those jobs.
“That’s an on-ramp for somebody,” Bagwell said of the training for applicants.
COA is looking at on-ramps, detours and off-ramps, he said.
“Education used to be more linear,” Bagwell said. “This is more cyclonic.”
What he means by that, he said, is that people don’t necessarily go through educational steps in the traditional order now. It’s not unusual to see people with master’s degrees or even doctorates to come to a community college for a certificate in a specific technology or to train in some other kind of skill that they need, he said.
People with degrees in other fields decide they want to study nursing, he said, or train in a trade to take advantage of a particular opportunity.
Bagwell said he looks forward to a meeting next week with Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Karrie Dixon, Mid-Atlantic Christian University President John Maurice and Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Superintendent Catherine Edmonds. He said he’s glad the leaders of educational institutions in Pasquotank have adopted a practice of regular meetings and he looks forward to building similar relationships with education officials in the six other counties in COA’s service area.
He added that he’s excited that Edmonds is serving on the State Board of Community Colleges.
His plans this weekend include walking in the Christmas parades in Elizabeth City, Currituck and Manteo.
“I will get my steps in,” Bagwell said.