NOVA’s Outgoing President Reflects on Tenure and Appointment as President of Wake Tech - Higher Education
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NOVA’s Outgoing President Reflects on Tenure and Appointment as President of Wake Tech

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Dr. Scott Ralls, who is currently the president of Northern Virginia Community College, also known as NOVA or NVCC, has been named president of Wake Technical Community College, effective May 1.

Ralls, who has had 20 years of experience in community colleges and has been a strong proponent of diversity, looks at his latest appointment as “a homecoming” given that he lived and worked for a large portion of his life in the Raleigh, N.C. area.

Ralls, however, didn’t initially intend on leaving Virginia’s community college system.

Dr. Scott Ralls

“I was by no means looking to leave NOVA, it’s a very unique place because of its student population, the diversity of the student population,” said Ralls, who’s been president of the community college since 2015. “It’s full of just really brilliant students who are looking for opportunity and as a unique community being a technology community and technology hub. I loved everything about NOVA, both as a college and the Northern Virginia region.”

Though his time at NOVA will be short-lived, the community college has made several “unique” achievements under his tenure.

NOVA has established some “remarkably unique relationships” to help its students reach their goal of earning an associate’s degree and transitioning to a four-year university, Ralls said.

For instance, the community college recently partnered with George Mason University to establish the ADVANCE program, a unique joint admissions program where NOVA students can utilize the resources from both institutions to help them earn a bachelor’s degree within four years.

The program is available to all NOVA students with less than 30 credits who plan to transfer to George Mason to pursue a bachelor’s degree in several fields. Students don’t have to apply to the program, they’re simply transcripted in.

“[Students] have IDs from both institutions. … They designate what their ultimate major at George Mason is, and so we have had hundreds of faculty working with each other to make sure it’s a seamless, no wasted credits relationship so that they don’t lose any credits along the way [to degree completion],” Ralls said.

Students in the ADVANCE program also have one counselor as they make their way through both institutions.

“I don’t think you’ll find that kind of type relationship for articulation at any other place,” he added.

Another partnership that has helped NOVA increase the enrollment in technology workforce-related programs is with Amazon Web Services. The community college system began working with Amazon when the company initiated their first East Coast apprenticeship program and their technology apprenticeship efforts in November 2017.

“We’ve become kind of a backbone for their apprenticeship work with veterans and we also designed for them the first cloud computing degree-based community college program in the country,” Ralls said, adding that through the partnership they have expanded “probably what is the largest cybersecurity program of any community college in the country right now.”

But what Ralls is most proud of is how the community college system is expanding opportunity pathways for students beyond NOVA.

“NOVA is a place that has very much defined itself in terms of helping people reach middle class,” he said. “When I came into NOVA we had a previous strategic plan called Gateway to the American Dream and I think we’ve refined that and furthered that to what we call Pathway to the American Dream.”

And a part of that restructuring is to make sure that students have “direct and seamless access into both the university opportunities they want and transfer and the economic opportunities they want, particularly in a very high-tech region,” he added.

Reflecting on his new position at Wake Tech, the largest community college in North Carolina with a student body of approximately 74,000, Ralls laughed and told Diverse his initial focus is to “not break anything.”

Any time you go to a new place for a job “it has a foundation of success, it has a culture, it has things that have made it strong and great and really, before you start to think about new things or think about those regards, you really want to understand the foundation that has made the place you’re going to so successful and build on that,” he said.

A leader should never want to enter a new place with the idea that they’re bringing a vision from previous places with them because that vision exists at that college and in that community, Ralls added.

“The job of a new leader is to bring that out and to make sure that it’s articulated and executed, but you’re not bringing a vision with you, if you do, you’re bringing it from someplace else,” he said.

Ralls received a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.

Monica Levitan can be reached at mlevitan@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @monlevy_.

This story was first published in CCNews.

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