Photo: (Courtesy of Gadsden State)
A familiar face just took a leadership role at Gadsden State Community College. Dr. Janekia Mitchell has returned to the school as the new Dean of Student Services. She provides leadership, strategic planning and executive oversight of student enrollment, retention and success for credit and non-credit programs.
After 16 years at Gadsden State, in 2018 Dr. Mitchell (pictured at left) transitioned to K-12 education as the student counselor at Emma Sansom Middle School in the Gadsden City School System. She looks forward to the influence and leadership she can provide at the college.
“I’m grateful for the experiences I had at Emma Sansom Middle School, but I’m happy to be returning to Gadsden State,” she said. “As the dean, I want to be the bridge for our students through the services we offer. I want to be impactful by forming a bridge from high school to the community college. All of us in Student Services want to make sure they are prepared for the world. At Gadsden State, we are giving them the skills students need to be productive members of society. We want them to be successful for themselves, their family and their community.”
Dr. Mitchell considers herself a “life-long learner” and holds many educational credentials to prove it. In 1998, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science and Wellness from Jacksonville State University. She continued her education at JSU, where she earned a Master of Science in Community Agency Counseling in 2005 and an Educational Specialist degree in Counselor Education in 2007. In 2017, she earned a doctorate in Professional Counseling and Supervision from the University of West Georgia.
Dr. Mitchell said it was in 2000 when her desire to support the education of the area’s youth was solidified. At that time, she was working as a coordinator at Thirteenth Place, a facility that provided shelter to disadvantaged and at-risk youth.
“I discovered that I had a love for helping students create a different path,” she said. “I want to help them see success beyond their circumstances. I always want to help our youth overcome adversity, and I want to encourage them to press forward in pursuit of a better life.”
After two years at Thirteenth Place, Dr. Mitchell was hired at Gadsden State as an outreach advisor for Upward Bound, a federal TRIO program that provides fundamental support to high school students in their preparation for college entrance. In 2007, she was named the outreach advisor for Title III at Gadsden State’s Valley Street Campus, the area’s only campus to have the Historically Black Colleges or Universities designation. Title III programs enhance academic success through traditional methods, such as working with faculty advisors, conducting new student orientations and student assessments, facilitating workshops and purchasing equipment for academic program areas.
“I’m proud of my time at our HBCU campus, not only because of the education and services they provide to students but also because I was a legacy on that campus,” she said. “My grandmother, Claudia King, taught cosmetology on the campus in the 1960s when it was Gadsden Vocational Trade School.”
A year later, Dr. Mitchell moved to the Counseling and Advising area of Student Services as an academic advisor. In 2016, she was named director of Residence Life at Gadsden State.
“My previous work at Gadsden State provided me with experiences in departments that now report to my office,” she said. “Because of my previous work at Gadsden State, I am very familiar with the services we offer our students.”
Assisting students is Dr. Mitchell’s passion, and she wants to see improvement come to their lives. Mitchell, who was raised in Atlanta, was a first-generation student, so she has a soft spot for those with similar backgrounds. First-generation students are those raised in households where parents did not earn a college credential.
“First-generation students can change the course for their entire family just by earning a college credential,” she said. “Education not only opens doors for them but for their entire family. Students need to realize that they can be the role models for those who came before them and those who are following them. You never know how many people are watching you take the lead.”
At Gadsden State, 61.7 percent of the student body are first-generation students.
“Many of our students don’t have the tools and skills necessary for college success,” she said. “When there is no one at home or no one who knows how to support them, it’s hard. Our students need to see their potential, to see beyond the environment in which they’ve been raised. We want them to come to our door ready to change their lives through education and training. I know we are winning when we change the course for those who graduate from Gadsden State or earn a certificate for direct-entry into our workforce.”
Mitchell has many goals in her new role as dean of Student Services, including increasing enrollment, providing an environment that encourages a diverse student population and forming community partnerships and relationships.
“It’s important to me that we have students at Gadsden State who represent our entire community,” she said. “We want them all to flourish as we provide them with programs that are of interest to them and beneficial to Alabama’s business and industry. We want them all to thrive in a diverse, working community.”
Enrolling at Gadsden State is win-win for its students and its community, she said.
“Yes, we want to increase enrollment at Gadsden State so that we become a driving force in filling the workforce pipeline as we improve the quality of life in the communities we serve,” she said. “Gadsden State is and always will be a positive place to impact lives.”
Dr. Mitchell has been married to Ruben Desmond Mitchell, band director at Anniston High School, for over 12 years. They have two children: Adarius, a 22-year-old college student, and Layla, a 10-year-old elementary school student.