Rhodes has helped establish college

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 15, 2002

This fall will usher in a new era for Riverland Community College, and for the community of Albert Lea.

Dr. Gary Rhodes, president of Riverland, will leave the college in early October for a position as president of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Va., a three-campus college with over three times the enrollment of Riverland.

&uot;Six months ago, I had no thoughts about moving,&uot; said Rhodes, who purchased a home in Austin last October.

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Then opportunity knocked. A former colleague, under whose presidency Rhodes served as vice president at a college in Maine, asked Rhodes’ permission to nominate him for the position. Rhodes was honored by the request and accepted. He was selected from an initial list of 65 applicants, half of whom were already presidents at other community colleges. The list was narrowed down to ten, then four applicants, before Rhodes was selected.

Rhodes became president of Riverland in August 1998, and since that time has seen great change within the college. He arrived shortly after the college, previously known as South Central Technical College, merged with Riverland Community College out of Austin and Owatonna. Because of the merger, Rhodes was faced with the challenge of fixing problems with communications within the system, and problems with the decision-making process.

Since that time, the Albert Lea campus has seen an increase in enrollment. Contributing factors to this growth include the addition of an associate of arts degree program, and the addition of two instructors to the construction electrician program, which added a significant number of students. Before the addition, the program had a three-year waiting list of approximately 100 students.

Growing the program was initially met with hesitation. But Rhodes’ philosophy was that if someone owned a store, why would they make customers wait outside until they could be served when the simple solution would be to hire an extra clerk. An advisory committee was then formed to determine how quickly the school could start up another program. Shortly after that, unused space was converted for use for the program. Despite the addition of two instructors, the program still has a waiting list of about 40 or 50 students.

Rhodes added that the fire at Farmland did not significantly affect enrollment &045; the college only gained about 50 or 60 students due to the fire. He added though, that some former workers did take some training that did not count toward college credit.

Not everything has been easy, however. Last fall, the school was affected by a statewide strike. But through a team effort and respect for those on strike, the employees and administration became closer after that, Rhodes said.

Rhodes said that his involvement with Riverland has been a big part of his life, and he that he didn’t always think of it as work.

&uot;If you do what you’re passionate about, you’ll never do a day of work in your life,&uot; said Rhodes.

He mentioned two things about his experience at the college that gave him goose bumps: theatrical productions and graduations. He said hearing people &uot;hoot and holler&uot; when a member of their family walks across the stage for graduation, he knows that the school has changed lives.

Riverland was not the only party who gained from Rhodes’ involvement, however. He gained from the experience as well.

&uot;I think I possibly have learned more from the people I work with than I taught them,&uot; said Rhodes.

In addition to his role at Riverland, Rhodes also provided the staffing to help start the Albert Lea Business Development Center. According to Pam Bishop, executive vice president of economic development, Rhodes provided the leadership to create an open-door policy for business. He was instrumental in terms of economic development, bringing together partnerships, training, business recruitment, and broadening the ALBDC’s vision.

&uot;He’s always had a very positive outlook for Albert Lea, and has gone out of his way to provide the resources needed to accomplish economic development,&uot; said Bishop. &uot;We’ve been fortunate to have a president like Gary who sincerely cares about the community in which he serves.&uot;

&uot;He’ll be greatly missed,&uot; added Bishop. &uot;He’s been a superb partner.&uot;