By Emma Kirkemier, Staff Correspondent
Dr. Tera Simmons, the new executive vice president at Gadsden State Community College, has always wanted to work in a college setting, especially because “going to a community college had such a positive effect on [her] life.”
Simmons started her new position on July 19, where she assists Dr. Kathy Murphy, Gadsden State president, in leading the college.
“[I’ll be] working collaboratively with others,” she said. “I’ll be the direct supervisor of HR, of all our plant facilities, which includes security and transportation. We’ll work with our legal counsel … and then just assist in whatever needs to be done.”
Despite her various administrative duties, however, Simmons is determined to keep her primary goal in view.
“My main focus will always be what’s best for our students,” she said. “We want to make students feel welcome at Gadsden State. I want them to realize that whatever credential they receive from our college will impact their life as well as the lives of generations to come. Gadsden State truly strengthens families and communities through education and workforce development.”
Simmons and Murphy have worked together before, at Hoover City Schools, and Simmons said it was “truly a joy working with Dr. Murphy.” Simmons served as interim superintendent at Hoover City Schools for six months after Murphy left the superintendent position in January to come to Gadsden State.
“I enjoyed the benefits of a community college as a student, and now it’s an absolute joy to work for a community college as an administrator,” Simmons said.
Simmons was a first-generation college student, graduating from Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusia, Alabama.
“[Lurleen B. Wallace] set the trajectory of my life,” she said. “I believe that I am where I am today because of the influence [Lurleen B. Wallace] faculty and staff had on my life.”
Simmons went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Auburn University at Montgomery and a doctorate from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“I feel called to help all types of learners, from children to adult learners,” Simmons said. “I feel like my purpose in life is to make a difference in other people’s lives and to help them accomplish their goals and dreams.”
Simmons has worked with students of all ages, going from teaching middle-school special education to working as a high-school assistant principal to working as an elementary-school principal to working in central administration.
Simmons made the switch to administration because she thought it would allow her to have a “greater impact” on students’ lives.
“As a teacher, I made a difference in my classroom and I truly loved it,” she said. “But I knew I could make a greater impact on the entire district as an administrator. It is a move that I have never regretted.”
While she has administration experience in Butler County and in Hoover, Simmons said working with a college was her “ultimate goal all along.”
Not only had a community college been meaningful to Simmons, however, but to her family as well.
“My baby brother, he was having trouble enrolling, so my mother went with him to a community college to help him enroll,” she said. “She got a little frustrated, and the vice president at that time actually went out and assisted my mother. And that influenced her, had such a positive impact on her life. She never forgot how she received the assistance to help my brother enroll.”
Simmons said that as Gadsden State’s vice president, this is the kind of influence she wants to have.
While Simmons said she wants to “make sure that our adult learners and our students have a successful and a positive experience,” she plans to do this primarily through supporting existing programs, faculty and staff.
“It is a beautiful campus that just has so many wonderful programs,” she said. “Gadsden is very fortunate to have Gadsden State.”
Still new to the position, Simmons is working on “getting [her] feet wet,” and she said her main goal for her first week was to establish relationships with school’s the faculty and staff.
Simmons said everyone has been “so welcoming” to her, despite a quick transition to the community.
“I actually moved on Friday and started on Monday,” she said. “It was a quick move, so I’m still learning my way around.”
As a new resident of Rainbow City, Simmons said she was excited to explore the community, finding new places to eat and even local walking trails.
“I love the Coosa River and the outdoors,” she said. “I enjoy the outdoors, and there’s so many walking trails that I’ve already discovered.”
While she has many new things to “discover,” both in her new position and her new community, Simmons expressed excitement at the prospect.
“I am just elated to be a part of the Gadsden community, to be a part of Gadsden State Community College and I’m very excited about the future,” Simmons said.
Jackie Edmondson contributed to this article.