There’s a new face in the corner office at Piedmont Virginia Community College after 23 years.
Jean Runyon, who became her tenure as the college’s sixth president earlier this month, said she is excited and honored to be at the helm of the college. Most of her time during the first few weeks has spent getting to know the college’s faculty, staff and students as she gets settled into the new role.
“It’s not just about me; it’s about the colleagues and leadership team that really make PVCC great,” she said in an interview from her new office. “We are the community’s college and want to be that. I would love an opportunity to be invited to events to listen and learn and to really become part of the community because this is where I’m making my home.”
She’s succeeding Frank Friedman, who led the college since 1999, and takes over the reins as PVCC is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Runyon said she wants to take advantage of that milestone to reflect on the community’s past and celebrate present accomplishments.
“But also to look forward to the future on how we can continue to be part of this community as the community’s college and support our students from the time they connect with us all the way through to completion,” she said.
A range of events to celebrate the milestone are in the works.
Conversations around the 50th will lead into plans to develop a new strategic plan, a process Runyon hopes to start in January.
Runyon, who moved to the area from Colorado, said that she believes leadership is about listening and learning first, so that’s how she’ll be spending a big chunk of her first year at PVCC. The college also is planning a series of discovery tours later this summer and into the fall for Runyon to learn about the surrounding community.
The college serves the City of Charlottesville as well as the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson.
“I’m really looking forward to being part of the community and that includes going out to visit all the communities that we serve and to meet with constituency groups and just get to know the area,” she said.
The former chancellor of the Virginia Community College System picked Runyon from among four finalists in April to be PVCC’s next president.
“The PVCC College Board offers its warmest welcome to Dr. Runyon as she steps into this new and exciting journey at PVCC,” college board chairwoman Lola Richardson said in a statement. “We are looking forward to working with her and carrying on with our tradition of excellence and student success.”
Runyon said that she wanted to lead PVCC because of the college’s commitment to teaching excellence and supporting students.
Her father was in the U.S. Navy, and her family lived in Virginia for many years when she was growing up. She still has family in the Virginia Beach area.
She started her career in education teaching at a high school.
“The students there really saw the local community college as a place to access higher education,” she said. “And then I had an opportunity to join the community college as an adjunct instructor and then a faculty member and realized that the community college is so much more than just about access, but it also is about success and completion.”
She taught at the College of Southern Maryland and has worked in leadership roles at Anne Arundel Community College. Most recently, she was a campus vice president of Front Range Community College in Colorado.
Runyon worked with Front Range Community College since 2015 as the top executive at the college’s Larimer campus in Fort Collins. She said at a forum in April before she was named president that her time in Fort Collins 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.
At PVCC, she’ll oversee the construction of Woodrow W. Bolick Advanced Technology and Student Success Center. Last month, the college broke ground on the $25 million facility, which has been been a long-time goal.
She’ll also be tasked with moving the college past the COVID-19 pandemic, working with area businesses to ensure that the college is meeting their needs and continuing to support students in reaching their goals.
During the search for a new president, several faculty and staff said they wanted the college’s next leader to help take PVCC to the next level.
To Runyon, that means ensuring PVCC is fulfilling its mission of helping students achieve their goals.
She also wants to check that PVCC’s programs are relevant to students, help them earn a living wage or transfer to a four-year institution.
“We’ll look to the future with students at the center and continue to innovate as part of our commitment to organizational excellence,” she said.
She also wants to look to see that all students have the same opportunities and equitable outcomes as part of charting a path forward.
“I’m excited to come alongside colleagues and students who are doing great work and also to really think about what does the future look like for us to build on the legacy of Dr. Friedman, who’s been here for 23 years, but also to recognize that PVCC is here to stay and the future is exceedingly bright.”