Paul Long doesn’t like to talk about himself. His colleagues, however, had no such reservations when discussing the dean of Thomas Nelson’s Public Safety, Allied Health and Human Services Academic Division.
Even so, Dr. Valerie Burge-Hall, chair of the College's Health, Physical Education and Wellness department, and assistant professor Michelle Alexander narrowed the essence of Long to two words: Servant leader.
“Just being the servant leader speaks volumes about him as a person,” said Burge-Hall, who has known Long for about four years. “It doesn’t matter if he’s being a servant leader to a student or to a parent or to someone out in the community or someone in higher administration at the College, it’s just who he is. How can I serve? How can I help?”
Alexander has also known Long for about four years and said much of the same.
“His greatest strength is his servant leadership,” she said. “He’s humble, and so what he does best is support his people. He brings out the best in the people that he leads because he encourages you, supports you and your goals and does what he can to lift you up. He is the first person to step in and lend a hand but the last person to take credit for anything. He is all about people.”
Long earned an associate degree in Fire Science from Tidewater Community College, a bachelor’s in Fire Administration from Hampton University, and a master’s in Human Resources Management from Troy University. His service to the College began in 2006 as an adjunct professor, and he became a full-time faculty member and department chair in 2015. Three years later, he was named interim dean for Health Professions, which turned into the PSAHHS in 2019.
He spent 20 years as an assistant fire chief in York County (1994-2015) and has been an EMS coordinator for the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department since 2016.
Dr. Susan English, vice President for Academic Affairs and Workforce Development at the College, announced Long’s promotion in early May.
“Paul has provided expert leadership to the college in the area of emergency preparedness, health and safety. He has over 20 years of EMS and first-responder service and has held various leadership roles within our localities,” she stated in a College-wide email.
All who spoke about Long said those connections to the community were crucial in the College’s handling of its most recent challenge - the coronavirus pandemic.
“The way he has maintained his professional connections from when he was in the fire and EMS area was extremely helpful to the College because he was in on very high-level conversations related to COVID prevention and the progress of the pandemic,” said Dean of Communications, Humanities and Social Sciences Dr. Ursula Bock. “We had expert information ahead of the public simply because of his connections to the decision-makers and people who were the most informed in the community.”
She’s certain the College would have fared much worse had it not been for Long.
“A lot of the credit for how the pandemic did not affect the College goes to Paul Long,” she said.
Burge-Hall was a mentor to Long his first year as a full-time employee at the College, was on the department chair leadership team and then on the committee that named Long the dean. His dedication to the College stood out in the interview process, she said.
“Paul lives, eats and breathes the mission of the College,” she said. “I don’t know when he sleeps, and I often get on him about that. I think that’s the thing that sticks out with Paul. It’s not a job for him. It’s an extension of who he is.”
She said no matter what he has going on, he’s always ready to help, which has led to the growth of the division. It now is fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Health Office of EMS, and there are many more Allied Health classes, and new nursing programs. The departments of health science, and fire science and EMS have all benefited because of Long.
“I don’t think there are any of the original health profession programs that stayed the same under his leadership,” Burge-Hall said. “Every one of them grew, and it wasn’t just to have something to do. It was because we had the foresight to say, ‘Hey, this is a need in the community,’ and the community said, ‘Yes, we absolutely do need it.’”
Long’s efforts also have been noticed by the community. He recently was named the recipient of the 2021 Julian F. Hirst Award for Distinguished Service by the Hampton Roads Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration.
In a press release, Thomas Poulin, the organization’s president, said, “the service awards committee was quite impressed with your lengthy, distinguished service to the community, seeking to provide the most effective, most efficient, and most responsive public services possible. We applaud your continuing dedication to the community, clearly demonstrating your passion to serve a greater good.”
Long was nominated for the award by Burge-Hall and Alexander.
“His contacts in the community and in emergency services and with the state have been invaluable as we’ve gone through this really uncertain time,” Alexander said. “There’s no playbook for this, but Paul helped our college build a playbook.”
One other aspect that came up when discussing Long is how he promotes a sense of family.
“I think Paul’s favorite thing is ‘We’re not a division, we’re family,’ Burge-Hall said.
She also noted Long invites everyone into the decision-making process, and always is trying to make this family the best it can be. That includes encouraging members to talk to him about anything.
“That’s rare. Students pick up on that, as well as faculty and staff and people in the community and across the College,” she said.
Alexander said Long treats everyone, from part-time faculty to staff members to full-time faculty, as equal members of that family. And as such, they “all have a voice at the table.”
There’s a sense of excitement in the division.
“I just count it an honor to work with him,” Burge-Hall said. “I expect us to keep doing great things under his leadership.”