New VP Dr. Tera Simmons shares her hope for Gadsden State. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
In July of 2021, Etowah County welcomed an innovative and impassioned new addition aboard its administrative team at Gadsden State Community College. From her first moments on campus to the renaissance she strives to implement today, Vice President Dr. Tera Simmons sketches an exciting blueprint for Gadsden State, maintaining genuine consideration for how the college – and herself – can best serve students and uplift the community.
Raised in Greenville, a shadow of uncertainty clouded her gaze when Simmons graduated high school. She found herself wondering what profession best suited her. From a child whose enthusiastic love for singing prompted her to imagine a life on stage, to a young adult who considered cosmetology, court reporting and later (as she worked her way through college at Alabama Power) business administration, Simmons soon discovered an innate purpose she fulfills today and a vocation that allows her to generate an abundant impact – education.
Simmons’ desire to pursue education as a profession stems from prominent individuals whose compassion and encouragement nurtured her academic and personal growth. Teachers proved instrumental throughout Simmons’ life, recognizing her potential and motivating her to accomplish her goals.
Attaining an administrative position at Gadsden State arises as a rather poetic addition to Simmons’ professional resume, a suitable chapter in an illustrious novel that spun full-circle. It is fitting that Simmons contribute her leadership to a community college, considering a community college altered her life for the better.
A first-generation college student, Simmons attended Lurleen B. Wallace in Andalusia, where the dedicated and benevolent faculty and staff guided her, supported her and inspired her to follow in their own transformative footsteps. She named several educators, such as Dr. Jean Thompson, whose commitment to their students illuminated their classrooms, evident in their character and present in their diligent efforts to extend generosity and goodwill to all in their realm of influence.
For these instructors and for Simmons, education proved greater than a mere job: to teach represented a calling.
“I could really see they had a passion and love for what they did,” said Simmons, remembering those individuals who influenced and supported her. “They just poured into their students, and I want to do the same. I always wanted the end of my career to be at a community college or a four-year university…it’s always been my ultimate goal. Teachers in K-12 affected me, but I still have contact with, and friends and mentors who are my professors from when I was in college.”
Simmons recalled how the faculty at LBW not only aided her, but her family as well. When her youngest brother discovered difficulty enrolling at the college, their mother strived to help. However, when Simmons’ mother visited the campus, she found little assistance herself and soon turned to leave. As she walked out the door, the college’s vice president at the time, Dr. Jim Krudop, rushed after her. Accompanying her back inside, Krudop committed himself to making the enrollment process as simple as possible, taking all the time necessary to ensure Simmons’ youngest brother received the help he needed.
“It made such an impact on my mom that he would go out of his way to help her,” said Simmons, who connected with Krudop in her own career and often attended events at LBW via his invitation. “I want to do the same thing. The impact you can potentially make on others, that you know you’re changing lives, that you provide opportunities for others is the greatest reward. Maybe you help nurture skills or see things inside of people they didn’t even see as a talent, but it changes the trajectory of their life [as it did mine] and puts them on a path to success.”
Coupled with her unwavering commitment and unbridled diligence, Simmons brings valuable experience to Gadsden State’s table, with her extensive leadership in managing maintenance and facilities, and ability to work with students of all ages. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Auburn University at Montgomery and her doctorate from Regent University in Virginia, beginning her career teaching special education in middle school. Simmons then transitioned into administration, serving as an elementary school assistant principal and principal, and a high school assistant principal. Her most recent positions were as Hoover City Schools Assistant Superintendent alongside current GSCC President Dr. Kathy Murphy, and interim superintendent following Murphy’s departure.
Simmons’ vast knowledge of K-12 academics and dual enrollment allows her to understand what students need upon graduating high school and how to better prepare them for their next phase of life. She believes that community colleges are a phenomenal resource for students, providing a cost-effective outlet for individuals to discover their passions and pursue their dreams. She applauded the school’s emphasis on technical programming, noting that two-year degrees and certifications are fantastic routes for those looking to enter the workforce with a certain skillset.
“I have compassion on other students and understand when students graduate from high school and they’re not sure what they want to do,” said Simmons, who herself acquired a transfer scholarship from LBW to AUM. “I understand the importance of helping students financially be able to afford college and also decide what’s the best career [option for their interests]. If you go to a four-year university, you’re just a number often. A community college helps to build a foundation. It’s like a launching board.”
A vast spectrum of responsibilities coincides with serving as vice president, with Simmons supervising plant facilities, dealing with legal matters and observing several buildings on campus in need of repair or updates. She collaborates with department directors and works closely with public relations, human resources and resource development, familiarizing herself with all branches of the college at Ayers, Cherokee, East Broad, Valley Street and Wallace Drive campuses.
Athletics is another facet of GSCC that falls underneath Simmons. With the college seeking public feedback regarding potentially reinstating baseball and softball in early January, Simmons analyzes how GSCC could acquire feasible funding for those programs and sustain those sports, should both resurge on campus. She noted she wants to incorporate sports and activities that align with students’ interests, making decisions based upon community needs, wants and the overall productive advancement of the college.
Listening to the students and community alike, Simmons believes, is essential in the college’s positive progression. Catering to all students, both traditional and non-traditional from countless backgrounds with various perspectives and experiences, remains central in her approach to generating opportunities and supporting programs that reinforce the college’s mission of educating and inspiring its attendees to become the best versions of themselves and contributing members of society.
“We want everything [at GSCC] to be student and community driven and centered,” said Simmons. “I want Gadsden State to be a college that people in the community want to attend. I want it to be a place where students want to participate, because they know it’s welcoming and that everybody here cares about them and their success. I want students, when they finish [at GSCC] to have the tools they need to be successful in life.”
“Life is all about the impact we make on others. It’s all about people; it’s all about the students. We’re only here for the students. The one thing I’ve seen here is we have great people and a great community. I’m excited about the opportunity to rebuild things and revitalize things. What do students want to do here? What are some opportunities that we haven’t even thought about offering? I want to hear those ideas from students.”
Simmons shared that one of her short-term goals resides in enhancing the college’s cafeteria. She seeks student input concerning the name and design of the space, planning to survey those enrolled to garner their opinion on potential improvements – whether that be a relaxed, Starbucks-type atmosphere with booths and comfortable seating or something different and innovative that contributes to the dwelling place. Likewise, Simmons plans to restore other buildings at GSCC, so that physical spaces housed on campus mirror the educational quality that flourishes within the classroom, creating an environment that excites students and motivates them to learn.
“The students are the part of my job I enjoy most,” said Simmons. “I can be going through some very difficult times, but whenever you get out and get around students, it helps you forget the reality of your personal situation because you’re doing for others.”
A resident of Rainbow City, Simmons described Etowah County as a warm and inviting community, flourishing with potential. She admired the local restaurants and outdoor gems available for exploration at one’s fingertips, from hiking trails at Noccalula Falls to enjoying time on the Coosa River. Her vision for the college resonates with the atmosphere already abounding throughout the county – an essence Simmons hopes to harness and magnify on campus through a resurgence in the days ahead.
“It is my hope that Gadsden State is welcoming, and when students come here, they feel comfortable and a family atmosphere,” said Simmons. “I want Gadsden State to be a vital part of the community – a beacon in the city, where there is life on campus, with activities and students are excited. I want to partner with the community and ask ourselves, if this college ever closed, would the community miss it?”
Simmons addressed the community with a final message, conveying her gratitude for the position and her confident and optimistic expectation for the future.
“I’m just glad to be here. I feel God led me here and I feel blessed to be at Gadsden State. I look forward to continually advancing things forward. It’s not just me…it’s a team of people. It’s nothing I do. It takes everybody coming together, working together, to make things happen.”