Since being named Thomas Nelson’s ninth president in January, Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon said she is often been asked about her vision for the College. She considers it an odd question.
“I thought to myself, well, how could I have a vision on day one?” she said at the beginning of last week’s virtual Monday Meet-up. “It would be a pretty ill-informed decision.”
Now more than six months in the role, she has had time to develop her “President’s Vision” for the College which she presented to more than 50 participants in the Zoom meeting.
The first goal: The Virginia Peninsula will have one of the most educated and trained citizenries within the Commonwealth (which is where the College comes into play). Among the strategies are expanding dual enrollment, enhancing credit for prior learning, increasing evening and weekend training and course offerings, and expanding our donor base, and increasing grant awards to provide faculty and students with the resources needed.
The second goal: The Virginia Peninsula will have one of the most thriving economies within the Commonwealth. To assist in accomplishing this goal, Brannon wants the College to design and execute proactive and innovative strategic enrollment and recruitment strategies; increase apprenticeships, internships, and workforce training opportunities; and expand partnerships with local businesses, community-based organizations, and local government.
“The two of those are very similar. One relies on the other,” she said. “If you study any community in the country or in the world, you do not find thriving communities where the citizenry is poorly educated or does not have skills. … There is a correlation between education skills and training, and a thriving community.”
Her plan came from hours of meetings and discussions with faculty, staff, students, area business leaders, and the broader College community.
“My goal was to make sure that the vision I have for the College is aligned with what I’ve heard,” she said. “I don't see my vision as mine alone.”
She’s been paying particularly close attention to what the College’s middle school and high school partners have to say.
“I'm hearing and listening to them talk about what their vision is, what their desires are for the College,” she said. “Tonight is the culmination of that work of those listening sessions.”
She said it was important to listen to the complaints and frustrations as well as the good things so the College not only can improve where it is failing but continue to provide the services where it is succeeding.
One area where Brannon sees great potential is Southeast Newport News, which she said is an underserved community.
“Our footprint is not big enough (there),” she said.
Another area where she sees growth potential is Williamsburg.
“In the upper Peninsula in the Williamsburg area, there's a huge demand for Thomas Nelson to play a role in helping our businesses create talent, the next generation of talent,” she said.
That could mean preparing high school students to go straight in the workforce, into the military, onto a four-year college, and everything in between.
“People in this community are looking at Thomas Nelson to fill a gap, and they believe in us,” Brannon said.
She stressed most of her goals are long-term, that few items on her list can be turned around quickly.
“There has to be some intentionality to getting back to what and how we serve the people who need us,” she said. “How are we serving our students?”
At the same time, there are lots of people who want to help the College.
“You'd be amazed at how many people in the community have said to me, ‘We can help you’,” she said.
Among her reasons for revealing her vision is because she wants feedback to make sure she’s putting the College on the right path.
“I really need to make sure that as I move forward over the next few years, that I've really captured what it is that's important to our faculty and our staff, and our constituents,” she said.