For Jean Runyon, students are at the heart of what community colleges do, and ensuring their success has been a key focus of her career.
“I realized over and over that a community college is not just about access,” Runyon said at a forum Tuesday with community leaders. “It is also about access with success and together we make success happen for our students.”
Runyon, a campus vice president of Front Range Community College in Colorado, is one of four finalists seeking to succeed Frank Friedman as president of Piedmont Virginia Community College. Friedman is retiring at the end of this school year after more than 20 years as president.
Runyon is the third finalist to visit PVCC this month for interviews, a tour and forums with students, staff and faculty. The PVCC board will recommend a candidate to the Virginia Community College System Chancellor, who will make the final decision.
Runyon said during her presentation that she was drawn to PVCC’s student success framework, as well as to what she saw as the college’s culture of care for students.
“Piedmont Virginia Community College is really creating pathways for student success from the time students connect with us to the time students complete,” she said.
She added that the college’s values also stood out, particularly the emphasis on community impact.
“With over 90 programs that allow students to complete what they start, enter the workplace, transfer to institutions, come back and retool and retrain, PVCC really is making an impact in the community as well,” she said.
She also highlighted PVCC’s community partnerships, including the Network2Work program and the college’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in her presentation.
If selected as president, Runyon said she would want to get out into the community to listen and learn about how PVCC is serving the community.
Runyon has worked with Front Range Community College since 2015. She’s the top executive at the college’s Larimer campus, which has given her experience with fundraising and developing programs to meet an area’s workforce needs. She’s also a fellow with the Aspen Institute’s Rising Presidents fellowship.
Front Range Community College serves seven counties, she said, which is similar to PVCC’s footprint. She’s also worked in leadership roles at Anne Arundel Community College and started her career teaching at the College of Southern Maryland. She has family in the Virginia Beach area.
As a campus vice president, Runyon said she helped to raise funds for a new $34.5 million healthcare center and also worked with a donor who wanted to pay the tuition for all the students studying to become licensed practical nurses.
“When the students walked on the campus and they got their bill and it says paid in full, they were a little bit surprised,” she said.
For fundraising, Runyon said it is important to inspire donors to invest in students.
“I see myself as a matchmaker — matching passion with our students and making a difference in their lives,” she said.
Runyon said it’s important to lead with equity. At Front Range, she led a team that developed a philosophy of inclusion. That process included semester-long discussions with faculty, staff, students and community members about what had made them feel excluded and included and the related impact.
She currently chairs Front Range’s equity, inclusion and diversity council, which launched an equity academy for instruction designed by faculty. As part of the semester-long academy, faculty had an opportunity to redesign their courses to better serve students.
The college also is working on a statement to recognize the indigenous history of the land on which the college sits.
“So there’s a lot of work in progress,” she said, adding that data analysis shows there are still opportunity gaps. “It’s a journey, an everyday journey.”
Runyon said serving as the next PVCC president would be an honor.
“Being here these past few days has affirmed that PVCC is an excellent institution making a tremendous contribution in our community and on our college campuses,” she said.
Walt Tobin, president of Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in South Carolina, is the fourth and final finalist to visit PVCC. His forum will be at 9 a.m. April 14 in the V. Earl Dickinson Building Main Stage Theatre on the main PVCC campus.
For more information, go to pvcc.edu/presidential-search-0.