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Friedman leaves his mark on PVCC

When Frank Friedman took over Piedmont Virginia Community College in 1999, he wasn’t sure how long he would stay. He was new to the area and PVCC was his first job as president.

“This was the right place for us in terms of the college and the community,” said Friedman, who will retire in June. “It’s a wonderful community to live in. So we’ve been very fortunate to be able to live here all these years.”

In those 23 years, the college has added two buildings and will soon break ground on another. Enrollment has increased by 25%, and the number of annual graduates quadrupled, according to college data. More high schoolers are taking dual-enrollment courses and earning associate degrees through early college programs. The college also added several new programs including eight related to health care. Meanwhile, the college foundation’s net assets have increased by 769% since 2002, according to an analysis of tax records.

And, for the last two years, Friedman and the college have navigated the pandemic, which sent classes online and hampered student engagement efforts.

“I cannot count the number of lives he has changed,” PVCC board chairwoman Lola Richardson said at graduation May 13, 2022. “He lives the mission of the college and has made PVCC a household word nationally and internationally.”

In spring 2021, about 4,223 students attended the college, which serves the City of Charlottesville as well as the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson.

PVCC was recognized recently by the American Association of Community Colleges. The college was a finalist for the association’s advancing diversity and outstanding college/corporate partnership awards.

“I’m blown away that we were finalists,” he said. “It’s validation that our faculty and staff are doing a tremendous job.”

For the advancing diversity award, the college was recognized for its Network2Work program, which connects job seekers with local employees to help them find quality jobs and become self-sufficient. It was established by Piedmont Virginia Community College in partnership with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2016.

“It’s the best anti-poverty program I have seen,” Friedman said. “I’m proud that we are doing it and proud that our college loves we are doing it.”

Friedman will be succeeded by Jean Runyon in July. Runyon has served as a campus vice president of Front Range Community College in Colorado. She’ll start at PVCC in July.

“I think Dr. Runyon is gonna do a wonderful job,” he said, adding that he met with her recently to start the transition.

Student Success

For Friedman, the most important part of his career has been to help students.

“For many of those students, the education they received here was transformative,” he said. “It changed their lives.”

During his tenure, Friedman worked with college staff to set up programs aimed at ensuring students complete that life-changing education. That has meant boosting advising and academic coaching as well as setting up writing and math centers where students could receive free tutoring.

Many of the services and programs will be housed under one roof when the college builds the Woodrow W. Bolick Advanced Technology and Student Success Center. Officials are planning to break ground on the 45,000-square-foot facility next month. Friedman is hoping he’ll be invited back for the grand opening.

In the works for years, the $25 million facility has been a long-time goal for Friedman and the college.

Friedman said the building will have a technology wing for programs such as cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing. The rest of the building will be a student center with offices for admissions and advising along with the college’s veteran center and other services.

“All of the things that we’ve kind of cobbled together in this old building will finally have a building designed around the student experience,” he said. “That’s really exciting for us.”

Student success also included expanding financial aid, Friedman said.

That includes the launch of PVCC4U 100% last year to cover the cost of tuition and fees for students with a family income of less than $100,000. Friedman said that aid helped 500 students in the last school year.

“It was so successful that we raised money to continue it,” he said. “The plan is to continue to do it as long as we can afford it.”

The aid program was initially funded in part by federal stimulus money.

During his tenure, the college has also raised money from the community for the student financial resource center, which provides emergency financial assistance to students so that they can continue their education.

“If you have an emergency, they’re gonna turn off your electricity and you’re gonna drop out of college if they do that,” he said. “We’ll cover it.”

Early college growth

Among Friedman’s list of accomplishments is the Early College Scholars Program at William Monroe High School in Greene County.

The early college program started in 2016 with 11 students, ahis year, 37 Greene County students graduated high school with an associate’s degree. More than 150 students have gone through the program, which includes taking take college courses at PVCC’s Eugene Giuseppe Center in Stanardsville in addition to the dual-enrollment classes at their high school.

PVCC and Greene County worked together to raise money to cover the tuition of the program for interested and eligible students, which allows them to earn an associate’s degree for free. Greene County is the only school division in PVCC’s coverage area with this type of program.

“These William Monroe kids, they’ve gone to Harvard, MIT, and Princeton,” he said. “I’d love to see that expand to the other high schools we serve.”

Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh said Early College Scholars has helped students get into schools they might have looked at before and provided them with more flexibility after high school.

“It also gives our students the opportunity to experience college while they’re still in our nest,” she said. “… It’s been a fantastic partnership with PVCC, and we’ve seen incredible growth. … We only hope that it continues.”

Looking to the future

For Friedman, the pandemic was a difficult time with the constant uncertainty and the need to quickly change how the college operates.

“What it taught me is that you’ve got to be flexible,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to pivot when necessary, and it showed me just how dedicated our faculty and staff really are.”

Before the pandemic, about 20% of the college’s courses were online. With the help of faculty, all classes moved online within five days after the pandemic shut down the campus. Friedman expects 40% of classes to be online after the pandemic has passed because of the flexibility it provides for students who work or would otherwise have to commute.

“It makes the difference between getting an education or not,” he said.

Friedman said the college has worked hard over the years to keep students engaged and on campus by starting clubs and hosting other activities.

“We made enormous progress for years,” he said. “The pandemic hits and it’s gone. A great challenge will be how do we recover that student engagement.”

Before he retired, Friedman said he would’ve liked to sell or lease 17 acres of the college’s land off Avon Street Extended. The land won’t likely be used for educational purposes but would be a good location for an apartment complex that could have served PVCC students.

Friedman explored ways to make that happen but said he was unable to navigate the state approval process.

“That’s one I think at some time in the future, the college might look at again,” he said. “So I wouldn’t give up on that.”

In retirement, Friedman is planning to relax and travel and then wants eventually come back to the college to teach, he said. He started his career teaching and has a doctorate in psychology.

Friedman will be succeeded by Jean Runyon in July. Runyon has served as a campus vice president of Front Range Community College in Colorado. She’ll start at PVCC in July.

“I think Dr. Runyon is gonna do a wonderful job,” he said, adding that he met with her recently to start the transition.

“I know enough to stay out of the new president’s way,” he said. “I would just be an adjunct faculty member showing up to teach a course.”


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