By Sarrah Peters
Gadsden State Community College Interim President Dr. Martha Lavender was named president of the school earlier this week. The Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees unanimously approved the appointment.
Also appointed were former Gadsden State vice president Dr. Valerie Richardson at Bishop State Community College and Dr. Susan L. Burrow at Central Alabama Community College.
“The process undertaken by the chancellor and his staff in the selection of these three new presidents was extremely comprehensive and one in which I know all due diligence was exercised by everyone involved,” commented ACCS Board of Trustees vice chairman Al Thompson. “I, and the entire ACCS Board of Trustees, feel confident that Dr. Heinrich has brought to us three very qualified, highly experienced individuals who will pick up the reins at their respective institutions and lead these colleges as they continue to meet the needs of the students, faculty and staff, supporters and communities they will serve.”
Lavender attended Gadsden State Junior College where she received an Associate degree in nursing. She went on to get her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Jacksonville State University. She continued her education with a Master’s degree and doctorate in nursing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Throughout her career she has returned to two of the schools she attended. She was recruited by JSU to work on a perinatal outreach education grant.
“It was through that experience working at JSU that I started teaching,” said Lavender. “I had never been in front of a group very often, and I found I liked it. I enjoyed that educational environment.”
Lavender spent 22 years working at JSU as a member of the nursing faculty.
After JSU, Lavender worked for the Department of Homeland Security, first as a contractor, then as a federal employee. The department was searching for an academic in health to teach doctors and emergency personnel first responder training for the Center of Domestic Preparedness.
She then returned to GSCC as the school’s dean of health sciences. She retired in 2011.
“I probably didn’t retire the way most people retire,” said Lavender. “I stayed very busy and active within nursing and education and in the communities.”
When she was asked to return to Gadsden State in 2014 to serve as interim, she felt like “it was an opportunity to come home and give back to the school that had been the foundation of [her] entire career.”
Lavender has many ideas about things that can be improved at the college. She would like to bring more students to the school.
“We have a need to really look at growing the college, reaching more students,” said Lavender. “I’d love to have more dual enrollment students and more second degree, or second career, students.”
Lavender would also like to improve retention rates. For students whose education has been interupted, she would like to find ways that would help students complete a degree. She hopes that they can also continue improving the school’s facilities. Lavender is pleased with the recently completed One Stop Center. Fowler Hall, a student dormitory, is currently under renovation. The school is also renovating the courtyard.
“I think the other focus I will have is to continue to strengthen our community partnerships,” said Lavender. “Trying to make sure our program offerings match up to what we need in our workforce is something that we will continue to look at very closely.”
Lavender’s focus extends beyond the students to the faculty and staff.
“I work with one of the most talented faculty and staff in the state, and they need to have some opportunities to grow themselves.”
Lavender doesn’t plan to retire again any time soon.
“I probably would stay as long as they’d have me,” said Lavender. “I certainly see several years on the horizon.”
Lavender was the third interim president to come into the college. She says that the leadership transitions made it hard for the college to move forward. She hopes to work on leadership secession, so that when she does leave, she leaves the school in good hands.
“I think the stability is good for a college,” said Lavender