Patrick Tompkins never saw himself as president of a community college.
But after 20 years in the classroom and moving up the administrative ladder, he’s seeking to take the reins of Piedmont Virginia Community College, Tompkins said at a forum Tuesday morning as part of a two-day campus visit.
Tompkins is one of four finalists picked to succeed Frank Friedman, PVCC’s longtime president who is retiring at the end of this school year. The other finalists will visit the college over the next two weeks.
Finalists will interview with the PVCC board in closed session during their visits. The finalist itinerary also includes a campus tour and separate forums with staff, students and faculty. Ultimately, the PVCC board will recommend a candidate to the Virginia Community College System Chancellor, who will make the final decision.
Tompkins said at the forum, which was open to community leaders, that the college’s reputation is strong and that he’s worked with current PVCC faculty and administrators over the course of his career, which prompted him to apply for the job.
“Piedmont’s reputation is deserved,” he said, highlighting the statistic that students who transfer from PVCC earn a bachelor’s degree within an average of six years.
Tompkins is currently the vice president for academic, student and workforce education at Eastern Shore Community College — a position he’s held since 2019. He shared at the forum how that experience has prepared him to lead PVCC.
At Eastern Shore, Tompkins was part of the team that was called in to reboot the college after it failed a viability assessment.
“Every community should have a viable community college,” Tompkins said.
Community colleges across the state and country are being asked to help employers find qualified employees as the labor force continues to adjust from the pandemic. Tompkins said that means PVCC needs to develop programs so that when the economy changes, the business community will be there for PVCC and “when we need them more than they need us.”
“This is a really good time for community colleges and we need to make sure we seize the moment,” he said.
Tompkins said he’s good at building personal relationships and bringing people together to solve problems, skills he used to help restore confidence in Eastern Shore.
As a vice president at Eastern Shore, Tompkins also gained more fundraising experience. He said Eastern Shore took a team-approach to fundraising, which was driven by the director of the foundation. The team saw success eventually, increasing donations by 300%, he said.
As part of the community college’s role in economic development, Tompkins said he helped Accomack County successfully compete for a manufacturing facility. New Zealand-based Rocket Lab announced their decision to build a launch site and rocket manufacturing facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in February.
If selected as president, Tompkins said he would spend the first 90 or 100 days on the job learning about the college and community, adding that what he knows about PVCC now is just a partial picture. Then, he would work with the college community to develop a shared vision for the future.
“At Eastern Shore, the college was in crisis,” he said. “I had to take action quickly and out of ignorance.”
The senior administrators at PVCC have already told him that they want to take PVCC to the next level and become a nationally known college.
Going to the next level would mean, to Tompkins, bringing more students into the college’s program such as dual-enrollment who haven’t historically had access.
He also said that PVCC can better connect with the community so that community members can better help the college.
“You have to have a strong story and tell that story to the community,” he said. “We need to make sure we are focusing on that central word in our name.”
Julie Leidig, provost of the Loudoun Campus at Northern Virginia Community College, will visit PVCC next. Her forum will be at 9 a.m. April 7 in the V. Earl Dickinson Building Main Stage Theatre on the main PVCC campus.
For more information, go to pvcc.edu/presidential-search-0.