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New River CTC president learning the neighborhood

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Marshall Washington isn't quite two months into the job as president of New River Community and Technical College. He's no stranger to Southern West Virginia, and he's not new to managing a CTC, but he's been doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning.

"Over the last three months I've been here, I've been listening to, internally and externally, before I put together and devise a plan of action," Washington said. "We also have a strategic plan in place, so I want to make sure I evaluate what we've currently been doing and don't discount what already has been put into work to move the organization forward, then just put my spin on things — maybe re-prioritize some items."

He's also been on the move, traveling to the nine counties the school serves to make introductions and also to begin understanding the differences among the communities.

Washington is the school's third president. He was approved for the position in February and started in March, leaving his position of vice president and CEO of Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania. Prior to that, he was vice president of student services for Kellogg Community College in Michigan.

Kanawha County Roots

He's a native of Columbus, Ohio, but his roots start in Kanawha County.

"My mother actually grew up in the Sharon area, so my grandfather was a coal miner," Washington explained.

He said when the coal mining work dried up in the late 1950s, his grandfather moved the family to Columbus, but Kanawha County remained the site of summertime trips and family reunions. 

Washington is a first-generation college graduate, something that he said gives him a good perspective.

"Geographically, the area here in West Virginia is a much larger area than what I came from; however, the number of students we currently serve is less than what I served before, so it's a little give and take," he said. "I'm meeting probably many more community members and constituent groups externally.

"That's probably been one of the biggest … eye openers for me; individuals are really wanting to make sure that I understand their community and how they connect to New River, but also to the community."

Each community has communicated how its needs can differ from its neighbor's, Washington said. 

Crunching the Numbers

New River CTC's budget is similar to the type of budget Washington managed as a campus vice president in Pennsylvania, but he said it's a different budget structure because it's made up of state dollars or tuition dollars rather than truly localized dollars.

And he came in the door right as the school's budget was cut — along with most other state departments — by 7.5 percent.

"We're trying to keep control on tuition costs because we know that affordability of a post-secondary education is hard for many families to be able to pay outright from their pocket," he said. "Giving them access to other financial aid offerings through the federal government or the state, providing those particular services, but keeping all those costs under control.

"Where do we see our students going once they leave us? Back into the work world or going on to a four-year institution? We have to be able to control that cost so once they leave us they're able to either pay back a loan or get additional dollars."

He said he knows several facilities and capital projects were stalled before he assumed the position of president, but he's pleased the bulldozers are moving now for the Raleigh County campus. He said between $6 million and $8 million is still needed to have the project fully funded, but he's hopeful the campus will be operational within the next 18-20 months.

The school's other sites have ongoing facilities projects as well. Washington said the Greenbrier Valley campus in Lewisburg recently acquired the previous high school and grade school in the area, and a project with the arts and sciences building requires some attention. In Mercer County, Washington said New River is looking at expanding and possibly moving to a different facility with more space.

"We have a wonderful relationship wit the career and technical school that's in that area ... and working with the Mercer County school district, but we'll probably have to temporarily move away from there if we want to see some growth in our student body and programming," he said. "And long-term-wise, maybe look at how we can be attached back to the Mercer County school district or other entities within that community."

Washington said in the Nicholas County area, New River has an opportunity to purchase land and build to expand programs for more technical and work force training.

Sharing Stories

Washington said CTCs are relatively new in West Virginia, but he wants his school to gain more notoriety to shine as an option for West Virginia families.

"Just being able to tell those stories as the displaced coal miner, or the displaced homemaker who comes back to us and is trying to get some re-tooling," he said. "We just recently had a student who was with us, he graduated from our line maintenance program out at the Advanced Technical Center, and he was probably around 40 years old, and he was on his way to the welfare line before he came to us.

"He said this was really his last hope with getting a well-paid job, and being able to go through that program he said really brought some insight to, No. 1, he could be successful, so that really helped him, and No. 2, he got a credential out of it."

Washington said he does not take his position or its responsibility lightly.

"I take it very seriously that I, myself, come from a similar background to many of our students who come to us," he said. "You don't know what not to ask, and you don't know what you don't know, and so I'm trying my best to really level the playing field when it comes to understanding how to access higher education."

And there are nine counties the school serves, so Washington said even if there is no physical structure, he wants to be sure New River has a presence.

"I'm getting wonderful feedback from the community; it's been a very welcoming community," Washington said. "I've been able to meet cousins I didn't even know I had, but people are just very friendly and very warm."

Washington said New River's board has been supportive, and he's enjoying seeing its members in action.

"I got that from the interview, but I even got it more coming here that truly a dedicated group of individuals that wants to see the community college be a gem in their communities and serve the people," he said. "We have a little group of volunteers who serve on their board, and they're just phenomenal, and likewise, that lends itself to the faculty and staff of New River."

Washington said his family is still making the transition to the Mountain State. His wife and their three children — 16-year-old daughter and 12- and 10-year-old sons — will join him in July. But they're already enjoying weekend visits.

"My family life keeps me balanced, keeps me grounded and real," he said. "We were in Fayetteville and went over and just enjoyed going to a park and getting a peek over in that area … aside from me going over to Meadow Bridge High School to give a commencement speech, so I fit in family life with the other things I have to do, and they're completely supportive."