New Danville Community College president looks to grow enrollment

Monday marked the end of Jerry Wallace’s first month as Danville Community College president. In that time, he has met with community members from a plethora of organizations to learn about the area and the DCC’s role within it.

Wallace came to Danville from Nebraska Central Community College, where he was president of the Hastings Campus. His hire ended a national search that attracted 63 candidates.

DCC is a two-year school that serves Danville, Pittsylvania County and Halifax County. It opened in 1936 as Danville Textile School, became Danville Technical Institute after World War I, and merged with the Danville Division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1968 to provide the programs now offered.

The consistent thread here is a focus on manufacturing, a foundation for Danville itself – and something the city is working to bring back to life.

The following is an edited interview by e-mail with Wallace about some of his aspirations and the wider potential of the city’s community college.

Q: Tell me about the road that brought you to Danville. How did you get here?

A: My education includes a doctoral degree, two master’s degrees, and a bachelor’s degree. I have majors in leadership, management, human resources and behavioral sciences. My previous positions are both in student services (admissions, resident director, site coordinator) and academic affairs (associate dean, dean, and division vice president of academic programs).

Q: What attracted you to Danville?

A: What attracted me to Danville is the size of the college service area, economic growth, location and the potential of the college. I believe DCC is positioned to improve the community and surrounding areas by producing highly-skilled employees and providing credits for students at an affordable price before they transfer.

Q: How has your first month been? What have you been working on? What have you learned about the community and about DCC in this time?

A: In the first month I have learned there is a lot of history connected to DCC and the communities we serve. I have had a lot of meetings with leaders in the community, as well as having been a part of some cool events in town. I recently wrote an op-ed about my first 30 days with more details and I plan to keep the communication consistent over time. We have amazing partners in the area, so we are looking at opportunities to partner and expand our services in the region.

Q: Danville is aspiring to become a manufacturing center, and community colleges can play a big role in this, as a lot of manufacturing jobs require community college credentials. How do you see DCC fitting in with these wider community aspirations around manufacturing – especially as the Southern Virginia Mega Site is hoping to secure a big manufacturer?

A: DCC is a major component of Danville becoming a manufacturing center. Just this week, our workforce department has explored ways to award more industry-recognized credentials for short term, customized training. DCC partners with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) and Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to train students from local high schools, as well as individuals seeking to enter the manufacturing field. DCC is available to partner with other entities in the area and we have experience working directly with employers to meet workforce demands.

Q: You’ve said that one of your goals for DCC is to grow enrollment, and that you’ve done this in the past through successful recruitment and retention. Colleges everywhere have been having a trouble with enrollment recently, so tell me a little bit more about the “how” of this goal. What are the logistics of growing enrollment?

A: Danville Community College will grow enrollment by rebranding some of our former options for courses and expanding our accessibility to students. DCC is a leader among the other community colleges when it comes to providing learning opportunities to incarcerated populations. We are eager to restart some of the services we provided before the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, with new technology, we are able to provide more flexible options for students to attend virtually or from remote locations. Those are some of the quickest ways we will impact enrollment, but to sustain enrollment we have to reimagine some of retention efforts.

In the coming weeks, DCC Enrollment and Advising Services, Business Office/Student Accounts, and Financial Aid Office, will be open for walk-ins with no appointment on Wednesdays in August from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Wyatt Building on the DCC campus. Prospective students can come in to inquire about classes, apply to attend DCC, register and pay for classes, and apply for financial aid. DCC will also be holding an Open Enrollment Event on Saturday, August 20, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. to provide weekend access to those who wish to apply and enroll in classes for the Fall Semester. We know that students who work, care for children, or have other barriers may have a difficult time coming to campus during traditional business hours. Providing appointment-free and weekend hours for these individuals to come to campus and get registered for classes will help support this need.

Q: Speaking of students who work or care for children, there’s been a big push statewide for tuition-free community college, though this isn’t always seen as a good solution. Some community colleges have scholarship programs (funded by local government or private entities or both) to fill in the gaps and effectively make tuition free, which can be a game changer for students who are already in the workforce or students with children. Does DCC have any scholarships like this? 

A: DCC has many scholarships and financial support for students. Specifically, in our workforce areas there are many state and local support programs, including G3, which is a state-led initiative that provides free training in G3 eligible programs. Shannon Hair, our Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Development and Executive Director the DCC Foundation is always looking to assist students who are not eligible for financial aid.

Q: Similarly, some community colleges are big on “wraparound services” like providing food banks, etc. Does DCC have any programs like that? 

A: Yes, DCC has a food pantry that is open to help all students in need. The efforts by the DCC staff, faculty and foundation are commendable. There are food resource locations in most of the buildings on campus reminding students they are supported at the college. DCC also participates in the ‘Single Stop’ program that provides a link to local social services resources for our students. These resources include childcare, WIC, SNAP, Medicaid, and more.

Q: Next door in Martinsville, a private foundation is now paying tuition for all Martinsville and Henry County graduates to go to community college. The goal here is to raise the community’s education levels. Would you like to see something like that in Danville?

A: Absolutely! I have seen a number of communities establish “Promise Grants” that covered the tuition cost for high school graduates seeking college education. Considering the investments from business and industry, high demand jobs available and the unfortunate number of dropouts or citizens without a GED in Danville, a program like this could really make a huge impact. Danville Community College would be a perfect entity to collaborate with a private foundation. I’m sure if someone like Mackenzie Scott had a chance to see and learn about the potential in the Danville area, she would invest and change many lives in the region.

Q: Tell me about the new aviation maintenance technology program. What is your hope for the program? How do you see it impacting the community?

A: The aviation maintenance program was already in motion upon my arrival. There are many partners from Danville at the table, and this program will fill a much-needed occupation need. With the growth of industry and the casino being built, there will be much more air traffic and those planes will need to be serviced. DCC is working to be ready and prepared to provide this service.

Q: Do you have any ideas for community engagement programs or activities?

A: Yes, lots of community engagement programs and activities will be announced in the coming weeks. Personally, in the first 30 days, I have attended back to school events, student celebrations, and community concerts. The DCC Foundation has a wonderful event scheduled for Friday August 5, the second annual “Suds, Swine, Sippin’ and Song” which is a fundraiser for student scholarships.

Q: Finally, what’s your favorite thing to do in Danville so far? Do you have a favorite restaurant or place to go?

A: My favorite thing to do in Danville so far has been getting out in the community to meet people. My wife and I enjoy the downtown area and have started to explore the walking trails and restaurants. Some of our current favorites are Links Coffee Shop, Me’s Burgers, and Crema and Vine. We are still looking forward to trying Ma Cakes and going back for more Dell’Anno’s Pizza!

Article By Grace Mamon | Cardinal News