By Brandon Martin
Since 2012, Dr. Angeline Godwin has served as the president of Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC).
Between now and her retirement on July 1, she hopes to reflect and savor her duties in the position that “has really just been the greatest honor of my life.”
Before returning to her family home in Mississippi, she agreed to an interview with the Henry County Enterprise. Her italicized responses to a few of our most pressing questions follow.
What thoughts are going through your head as your time at PHCC winds down and what has your tenure at the institution meant to you?
“One a daily basis, I’m thinking about the things that we have in process ━ the initiatives, the grants, the programs. I want to make sure that I get those concluded and in good shape for a very smooth transition.
I’m really looking back to 2012, when I got here, and to some major initiatives. I’m trying to allow myself some time to sort of reflect on those and savor them. Serving as the president of Patrick Henry Community College has really just been the greatest honor of my life. I absolutely love it. I still love it every day. I love the communities, I love our students. They are some of the most extraordinary people that I have worked with in my life. It’s just been an incredible opportunity and journey for me to have the chance to do this at any point in my careers.”
What made you want to retire now?
“Sometimes you just feel like it is the right time. Perhaps COVID really gave me a reflective time to think about the other things that I want to do in my life, as well as balance that with my responsibilities to my family.
This position and this work is really 365/24/7. It’s sort of all-absorbing if you do what needs to be done as a community college president. You are just thoroughly immersed in your work in the college and the community.
There are other things that I want to do, and I want some more time to spend with my mother, my husband and my kids. This was a good time for me to move into the next phase of my life while I’m young enough to do those things.”
What will you be doing with your newly acquired free time?
“I do love to write and I do hope to do some more of that. I’d like to go back to teaching, that was my original career and I love it more than anything. I think first and foremost, that is my first love. I like to paint, I love music and writing music. I also plan on engaging more with my women’s ministry which I feel very strongly about. I’m also interested in coaching entrepreneurs and coaching people in their businesses and careers.
Those are some of the kinds of things that I like to do and I get to do some of that now but it is very, very limited. I’m not stopping work, I’m just retiring from this career.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face when you were first brought on as President?
I think the largest challenge was that we did have some pretty big financial challenges early in my tenure at Patrick Henry for many different reasons. It required us to make really, really hard decisions. We did a number of reductions in force and other events. They were just gut-wrenching to have to do those, especially so early in my tenure as a president. I really hadn’t even had the boxes unpacked before I was already having to deal with very serious budget deficits.
On the other side, which is a positive and a negative, is that the college was very well-known and really respected from a national perspective. Then at some times, I felt like our college was unknown in the local area and regions. That was a challenge for me to really put the college more front and center in the hearts and minds of the communities that we serve.”
Which accomplishments are you most proud of?
“I’m very proud of the tenacity and resilience of this college. Even before COVID but I think it really shows you what the college is made out of because we continued to push forward, we continued to make things happen, we continued to secure grants, we continued to win awards, we continued to move students through to the finish line and get them to good career jobs.
I’m very proud of the Manufacturing and Engineering Technology Complex up at the Patriot’s Centre here. I think it is a hallmark of extraordinary advanced manufacturing and I think it will serve this community for many, many years as a key magnet in economic development.
I’m very proud of the expansion in Patrick County. Not only the welding facility and the high school but the new career and technical center there across from the teaching site because it allowed us to expand so much in what I think is a major need in Patrick County.
The Dalton IDEA Center in Uptown Martinsville which is our FAB Lab and our Innovation Accelerator. It is changing lives and giving people the opportunity to create new enterprises and new products.
I’m very proud of our athletics and our arts. I think the Patriot Players are an extraordinary group and while they’ve had a pause because of COVID, I think they will be back better than ever. If you’ve ever been to a production, you’d have to be amazed at what a small college with virtually no resources, the quality of programming that we deliver. Similarly situated, our athletic team. The first team in the history of the Commonwealth, our baseball team is on the way to the World Series in Oklahoma. We continue to fill more sports and mainly give people the opportunity to move on.
The most pride I have is that every single student that came to Patrick Henry Community College, they left here in a better position than when they came here. They left a better person, their prospects and their future, their confidence and their goals. That will always be what I am most proud of.”
Who have you leaned on the most during your time at the school for guidance and what was the best piece of advice that you received?
“That would be a very long list because I do think that if I am the smartest person in the room that I’m in the wrong room. I have relied very heavily on my leadership team━Brian Henderson, Tiffany Underwood, Rhonda Hodges, Greg Hodges, Jack Hanbury. I leaned on them very, very heavily for guidance and direction.
I’ve been fortunate to have a chancellor who has lots of wisdom and is willing to share it. My husband, he was a career community college biology professor. He’s always been able to give me a very focused slant from a faculty perspective. And all of our children went to community college.
The best piece of advice that I have received would be hard to quantify but it probably is just to trust my gut and trust my instincts. And to do my part. That was always my husband’s advice. First and foremost, do your own part. I’ve tried to stay laser-focused on that as president of this college and part of this community, what is my responsibility.”
What’s something most people don’t realize about the everyday work of an administrator at a community college?
“I sort of feel like a swan some days in that it looks like we kind of just glide across the water. We kind of move from one event to another or one initiative to the other. But we are really paddling very hard underneath. I think what they might not realize is a lot of the work of a president is what you see but there is probably more that we do that you don’t see.
It’s relationship building, studying and learning as much as you can about the best practices or any issues or concerns. You have to always be a student of your art and trade. You have to always be learning and continue to learn. I think that part of being a community college president is sometimes missed and you have to really fight to have that strategic envisioning time because you probably are not going to get to go on very many vacations, you’re probably not going to get many days off. Particularly with technology, you never leave it. But you have to remember that you have to stay on top of your industry. Not only to look for opportunities but to look for potential challenges.
Spend a lot of time behind the scenes, sometimes very quietly, talking to people and listening so you have a sense of the heartbeat of what is going on with your faculty and staff. But most importantly, you’re listening to students.”
What is your biggest regret upon leaving the school? Is there anything that you think you could have done better?
“The first presidency I had was when I was 37-years old. I would have loved to have been president of Patrick Henry Community College when I was 37. I can’t fix that. It was a different stage in my life.
There are many things that I could have done better. You can do better every day. I did the best that I knew how to do with the information that I had at the time to make a decision of what was doable and how we could move forward. But in any decision or anything that you do, you could always find room for improvement. I did try to make sure that the next time that I was dealing with a similar situation or opportunity, I always tried to learn from the good decisions, but I probably learned more from bad decisions.
Of my top 10 projects here when I settled in and felt like I knew the college that did not get accomplished, I really wanted to have a childcare center established here at the college during my tenure. That did not get done but I think there has been some good planning and thinking. I think that may happen at some point in time to some degree.
A need that came to me after I was already here that was not part of my original plan was the need for student housing. I’m hopeful that in the future that is something that will happen.”
How have you changed both personally and professionally during your time here?
“I think I have evolved in that I am older and wiser. I have more experiences that I can use and leverage.
Professionally, I think one area that I grew in is really learning how to build relationships and to build teams to make things happen. Even working in a highly-remote environment. Before COVID, we had moved more and more to technology. When I first became president, I sure didn’t have a cell phone. Students have my cell phone number, it’s on by business card. I did not have that constant access to anyone and everyone. I’ve grown professionally in that way, to make those advances be to our benefit.
Changes personally, I did have a little bit of color in my hair. I had a little bit of natural brown hair when I first came here and now it’s just about white. I think the older we get, we learn to have a heart of gratitude. I’m just grateful for everything that I have had the opportunity to be a part of here. I’m grateful for all of the people that have come into my life.
What’s something special about our area that you don’t find in other communities?
I think our community is a community of many communities and they each have some unique things to bring. That’s one of the things that I think is so fascinating and different.
I think that we have natural amenities here that are second to none. I’m talking about our water features here, the mountains, the absolutely beautiful foliage and the natural environment that is here. It’s just extraordinary.
We also have such strong cultural threads with the arts, the craftsmen and artisans. From furniture to quilting to pottery and the music traditions here that are so strong, southern gospel to spiritual to bluegrass. It is such a rich, rich, rich cultural area that has this backdrop of such extraordinary natural beauty. You just don’t find that everywhere.
I’ve lived in lots of places but there is never a day that there is not something here that I get to experience for the first time or want to experience again. I don’t think you can really grow tired or weary. I also don’t think you could ever really finish the list.”
What will you miss the most about living in Martinsville – Henry County?
“The people. Hands down, no question.
This community has opened its arms and allowed me to become a part of them. I felt like I was a part of the community. It’s been such a welcoming community and I’m forever grateful for that. I came for this to be my home for as long as we were here and this is truly my whole family. We felt that this was home. It was very easy for us to quickly transition our daily discussions that we were going home to Virginia. Even though I’m originally from Alabama and my husband is originally from south Mississippi, we are returning to Mississippi where our home is at my husband’s family farm, I always felt at home here.
I think that is a testament to the people. I’ve lived in lots of places, and I’ve not always felt at home no matter how long I was there.”
What advice do you have for your successor?
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. That is not original. Stephen Covey originally said that.
Student success is the main thing. It is the reason this college exists. It does not exist for any one person or any one program. This is about student success because when our students are successful, our businesses and industries are going to be successful, our families are going to be successful, all of the many entities in our community are going to be successful.
The main thing is to keep your eyes on student success and every day as president, I ask myself two questions. What is in the best interest of the students and what is in the best interest of the community? Always keep those two questions front and center.”