By Kate Rhoads
After months of confidential interviews and exhaustive deliberations, the Vice President Search Committee and Dr. Thom Chesney, Brookhaven College president, have selected Donald Smith as Brookhaven’s incoming vice president of academic affairs.
Smith will succeed Rodger Bennett, who served Brookhaven for the past six and a half years, as vice president of academic affairs. Smith said he jumped at the opportunity to work at Brookhaven due to the reputation of the Dallas County Community College District system. “It’s a great system,” he said, “great national reputation.”
Previously, Smith was dean of business, technology and economic development at Black Hawk College in Illinois. He also held dean, associate dean and manager positions at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, Blackhawk Technical College in Wisconsin and Sinclair Community College in Ohio, respectively.
Smith said working in these community college systems familiarized him with DCCCD. Additionally, he said he gained experience he will use to further Brookhaven’s mission of ensuring student success.
At Sinclair Community College, Smith said he was on a team responsible for building the online learning system from the ground up. Enrollment in online classes went from zero to more than 7,500 students, Smith said.
“More and more students are migrating to online learning at the community college level,” he said.
Smith said providing students with access to curriculum is one of community college’s main missions. “Online learning is a way to do that,” he said.
While at Blackhawk Technical College, he said he acquired an understanding of how to respond well to the needs of business and industry in the region. “Which is very important for any community college region,” Smith said, “including Brookhaven and the Dallas system.”
Chesney said Smith has been closely involved with employers in various industries, including business, retail and manufacturing.
“He’s going to be immediately able to connect with the community and connect with employers,” Chesney said.
After BTC, Smith took a position as associate dean of business and information technology at Cuyahoga Community College. Cuyahoga is Ohio’s oldest and largest public community college, serving over 52,000 students annually, according to its website.
“There, I learned how to work in a multi-campus system,” Smith said. This also involved learning how to work with faculty, administrators, curriculum and cross-functional projects across multiple campuses.
“These types of things are all very important among the colleges that make up the DCCCD,” Smith said.
Another essential aspect of the community college environment, he said, is to provide technical skills to returning veterans. The current military drawdown will bring many military members home and to the doors of community colleges, Smith said.
Along with providing high-tech skills, Smith said it is important to recognize the work veterans performed while on active duty and provide credit for it.
“I would like to see us be a very active part of that history,” Smith said, “and that is making sure that we’re doing all the right things for returning veterans.”
Smith served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force working with intercontinental ballistic missiles. During his last four years of active duty, he worked as director of education and training on missile and space systems technology.
Smith said his focus as Brookhaven’s new vice president will be to implement four objectives recently passed by the DCCCD Board of Trustees.
The first is to align DCCCD’s programs and solutions with current and emerging workforce gaps through a variety of innovative approaches.
The second is to address career readiness by expanding early college high schools and charter schools, partnering with K-12 programs and facilitating the transition of DCCCD students to four-year colleges and universities.
Third is to invest in contemporary software solutions.
The fourth is to create innovative public and private partnerships for workforce and economic development opportunities.
“Those board-identified directives and objectives are what’s going to drive the path, the direction, for instruction here at Brookhaven,” Smith said.
Smith’s rich background in developing relationships with faculty and recognizing student needs will allow him to respond and meet those needs, Chesney said.
Identifying opportunities and responding to them is crucial, as Brookhaven should be “known for delivering just a high, high level of responsiveness and service,” Chesney said.
The key to student success and an important element of Brookhaven’s history, Smith said, is instructional innovation.
Some examples Smith gave of instructional innovation are online learning, active learning, competency-based assessment and flipped classrooms, in which students watch lectures online at home and complete interactive activities in class. Instructors can incorporate these into their teaching methods to appeal to students, he said.
Students who are engaged in their academic programs are more likely to be successful, Smith said, which is why it is crucial to encourage faculty to stay innovative.
“We really want that,” Smith said. “That’s the art of what it is that we do.”