By Brandon Martin
Being the successor to any great leader is no easy feat but it can still be done, and it’s a position Dr. Tanjula Petty could potentially find herself in as Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) holds interviews to select the replacement for its current president Dr. Angeline Godwin.
Petty said she is up to the task.
“I think that Dr. Angeline Godwin has done an exceptional job as a president at PHCC. I do believe that the next president will have some big shoes to fill but I do believe that with my 7.5s, we are ready to take the helm and lead PHCC to the next level to reach its institutional capacity and stretch its reach,” Petty said. “I applied for this position because I have a service heart, I am a visionary leader, I have the capacity, I’ve been prepared, I am equipped and ready to be the next president of PHCC.”
What does it take to succeed at a community college? If anyone knows, it is Petty, who has succeeded both a student and as an administrator.
“I am a first-generation college student,” she said. “I was a single mother living in community housing with no transportation, and I would walk seven miles to my nearest community college, which was Trenholm State Community College.”
Like most community college students, Petty said she was searching for a better life through education.
“I remember going there and entering into a nursing program because I wanted to be a better me, a better mother, and a better member of my community,” Petty said. “It was because of that journey, that I was able to leave Trenholm and go to Troy State because I saw what it was that I wanted to do. I wanted to have a positive impact on people.”
After some time serving as a retention specialist at a university in Texas, Petty said she developed a fondness for her “fulfilling” work of helping students graduate.
“I knew that I wanted to continue to lead and have a voice in higher education,” she said. “I am able to change lives and have an impact on lives. I don’t take this lightly. Although I have applied for the position of president, I also applied for my purpose and what the potential of this community is.”
To tap into that potential, Petty intends on forming a collaborative vision for a better way forward.
“I don’t believe in a one-person vision. I’ve always believed in a collaborative vision,” she said. “I believe that I will provide leadership to help facilitate the goals and the mission of this institution.”
With the backing of a “high-performing team” consisting of PHCC faculty and staff, members of the community, and business partners, Petty will be working to achieve the mission of the community college.
“The mission of this college is a comprehensive community college committed to enriching the quality of life in its service region through academic excellence, student success, workforce development, community engagement and life-long learning,” she said.
Moving forward, Petty plans to keep all those considerations at the forefront of public policy.
“I will be the biggest recruiter for this college, the number one recruiter,” she said. “But I believe, internally, everyone that is employed by Patrick Henry Community College is a recruiter. That is my philosophy.”
Petty said it will take a concerted effort to reach potential students. During her travels to the area, Petty noticed this was something that could be improved.
“As we were coming into Virginia, the one thing that I was looking for was ‘this way forward to Patrick Henry Community College’ or ‘success awaits you at Patrick Henry Community College,’” Petty said. “I didn’t see that, and the population of students which we serve, we have to provide direction.”
Simply spreading the word can have a tremendous impact, according to Petty.
“As it relates to marketing, we need to do a little more in terms of marketing and engaging with our community and potential students to sell that message,” she said. “We have a campus that is multi-generational. That means that our message just can’t be one-sided. It has to be multi-faceted. The way that we deliver that message has to be a little bit different for each group.”
This includes communicating available other available resources, Petty said.
“It is hard to sell education to individuals who don’t know how they are going to pay their rent, if they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or how they are going to feed their children,” Petty said. “We must share the message that we have a Patriot’s Pantry, which will allow you the opportunity to get food, or that we have resources and partnerships with these individual non-profit organizations that we can help you while you get your education and get you from a poverty level to a middle-class level.”
One way of helping students achieve this goal will be accomplished through pushing trade careers locally.
“One of our most significant partnerships will be k-12,” Petty said. “We have to look at our students a little bit sooner rather than later. If you are waiting to introduce high school students to various career programs or career options, then you’ve waited too late. You’ve missed the mark. You must start as early as fifth grade to engage students in possible career options that they will be able to be successful in or allow them to explore.”
Petty suggested allowing students to visit the PHCC campus to get a better feel for what each career path could offer. Additionally, Petty said she would like to see more dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students.
“As the president of Patrick Henry Community College, the one thing that I would love to see is every high school student graduating with some type of credential,” she said, adding that programs like G3 (Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back), REV (Re-Employing Virginians), and FastForward, provide the opportunity for short-term credentials.
“We have some students that we just need to help them get a skill and get into whatever that trade is to allow them to go into the workforce,” Petty said. “Even when they get those credentials, we don’t take our hands off. We are a community college. We must be hands-on and continue to nurture those skills as they enter into the workforce.”
Petty said this includes incorporating the voices of business partners in the curriculum being taught.
“Looking at advisory committees, allowing individuals from the workforce to serve on advisory committees in our college to help guide how the curriculum should look and what needs to be taught,” she said. “Looking at those outcomes and allowing our industry and business partners to have a voice in how that looks.”
In a previous position, Petty said she invited business partners to participate in roundtable discussions.
“We would bring all of those individuals to the table so that we could have robust conversations about the needs, not only of the college, but for our business and industry partners,” Petty said. “One of the first things I ask of our business and industry partners is ‘what can I do for you from a leadership standpoint?’ They want to know that we can be responsive to their needs.”
By aligning those shared goals, Petty believes PHCC can send a more diverse workforce with transferable skills to the workforce.
“I know that community colleges with strong workforce outcomes tend to adapt and apply to our employers’ needs a little bit better than those that don’t,” she said. “I foresee myself doing several things. One, making sure that we align our current programs to the needs of our businesses and our industries. But also, making sure that we stay engaged with our industry partners so that we are feet and hands on the ground at all times to make sure that we are responsive.”
Petty has been working in higher education for more than 16 years. She began her career in 2005 as a Director and Retention Specialist for the Title III Institutional Grant at Vernon College in Vernon, Texas. Two years later, she joined Pensacola Junior College as the Director of the Institutional Quality Enhancement Plan. Following this, Dr. Petty became the Director of Education and Outreach at Tuskegee University in Alabama. In 2014, she joined Trenholm State Community College as the Dean of Instructional Services for a year before moving to Albany Technical College as the Vice President for Academic Affairs. Following this, she became the Assistant Provost of Academic Affairs for Alabama State University in 2018, and the Assistant Provost for Student Success and Special Initiatives in 2020, the position she currently holds. Petty earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Troy State University and her doctorate from Alabama State University.