Dr. William “Bill” Seymour began his stint as the president of Cleveland State Community College this week.
With the goal of working with the college’s faculty and staff to do some “strategic planning” for the future, he has been settling into the office and life in Cleveland.
Monday was his first day on the job, and Seymour said he has since been trying to familiarize himself with the campus along with encouraging faculty and staff to share with him what they do.
“I like to tell them this is orientation time for the president,” he said.
Seymour said things fell together pretty quickly after the Tennessee Board of Regents made the decision to name him the new president of the college, which became official Dec. 5. He most recently was the vice president for institutional advancement at Jackson State Community College, and he and his wife, Catherine, sold their Jackson home the very next weekend.
After a busy two-day trip to look at houses, the couple made the move to Cleveland. Since then, it has been a matter of getting to know their new surroundings.
Over the course of Seymour’s career, he has worked at both small colleges and larger ones. His experience includes being president of the now-defunct Lambuth University and a vice president at Maryville College.
Seymour said he is optimistic about the future of Cleveland State — and community colleges in general. He argued that community colleges are “as relevant” as any other form of higher education. The higher level of accessibility to local students and lower tuition costs than may be found at four-year colleges were a couple of factors he found most compelling.
He added many students are able to graduate with minimal student loan debt — if any at all, and many find jobs pretty quickly.
Many companies today tell educators they do not have enough qualified applicants to fill their positions. That is something he said he wants to help remedy, and he believes community colleges are perhaps in the best position to help with workforce development in their areas.
“It’s something even more needed in society now,” Seymour said.
While he said it is important he and the college’s faculty and staff begin setting new goals for the college, Seymour stressed he did not see much that needed to change since Cleveland State seems to be in good shape right now.
“We have to plan for the future, but it’s not change for change’s sake,” he said.
Staff will be encouraged to suggest ways their departments can be improved.
Another overarching theme Seymour said he had already begun to emphasize in staff meetings is a renewed focus on the bettering of the students themselves.
“Engage every student” is the slogan he said he will try to emphasize as the college progresses.
While it is important to make sure the college continues to offer practical and relevant programming, he said it is also important to focus on helping individual students succeed to the best of their abilities.
Seymour said some college presidents do not feel they should much spend time getting to know their students, but added he would try his best to do so as time allows by attending student activities. Though it might not be an easy thing to do schedule-wise, he encouraged faculty and staff to do the same.
As he tries to get to know Cleveland, he said he will also try to be as present in the community as possible, to get a feel for how the college could best serve the area. He stressed the importance of the programs being “responsive” to things like workforce demands.
“If we’re not being responsive … we’re not doing our job,” Seymour said.
He also expressed a desire to continue to foster relationships with businesses because “that’s where the jobs are.”
While not many concrete plans and goals are in place just yet, he said he likes the idea of doing quite a bit of “strategic planning” and involving faculty and staff in the process along the way. The idea is to find answers to the problems the community might be facing in terms of education.
“We’re going to develop those answers together,” Seymour said.
For now, it’s a matter of getting to know the college, the city and the people as he makes Cleveland his home.
A variety of reasons played into Seymour deciding to apply for the job in the first place, but one was a desire to be closer to family in the Maryville area, including his 29-year-old twin daughters and their three young grandchildren. While his wife, a special education teacher, is still in the midst of a job hunt, he is just finishing up his first week on the job.
“Cleveland State is a quality place,” he said. “We received such a warm reception.”
Seymour has taken over the presidential position most recently held by Dr. Carl Hite, who recently retired after working at Cleveland State for 17 years.