James Ball listened intently as each senior department faculty member introduced newly hired members to the Carroll Community College family.
Some of the new employees were familiar, transitioning from part-time to full-time positions with the college. Others were complete newbies to the school.
Many of the newcomers looked around the conference room nervously, but Ball greeted each one with a warm smile.
Last, but not least, it was time for Ball to introduce himself, as he too has taken over a new role this school year. As everyone turned to him, waiting for him to speak, he started chuckling.
"I almost said vice president," Ball said, referring to his former title at the school as vice president of academic and student affairs. His comment was met with laughs.
Ball assumed the role of the school's third president on July 1, upon the retirement of Faye Pappalardo, who spent 15 years building and steering the school.
Now, the reins of the ever-growing young community college are being handed over to Ball. The new president said he is ready for the challenge, pushing a student-first approach and innovation for the college.
At the new employee orientation, which occurred a few weeks before classes are scheduled to begin on Sept. 2, Ball told the new employees they are joining a great team.
According to Ball, Carroll Community students rated the college's faculty members No. 1 in caring about their students.
"I hope everyone continues that kind of caring," said Ball. "For those who are brand new, welcome aboard. For those who are kind of new, thanks for not breaking down, we'll be doing that to you soon enough."
Earlier in the day before the new employee orientation, Ball admitted he is a little picky in his hiring method for faculty and staff.
"If in an interview a potential candidate doesn't say 'student,' 'student learning' or 'student-centered,' they don't make it through the interview," he said.
For Ball, it is important that faculty and staff put the needs of the students first and work toward instilling in them the desire to be lifelong learners.
The college also tries to add a student to the hiring committee when open positions are being filled, Ball said. That way, students are actively a part of the hiring process.
Ball's vision is to transform Carroll Community into a center-point for educational growth for both its students and the community-at-large. Ball said he hopes students will determine what kind of learner they are, and uncover who they want to be and what they want to do as a learner.
"It's my mission to help students see learning as a bigger, more interconnected aspect of life," Ball said.
According to Ball, his goal is to maintain — as much as he can — an open-door policy with students.
"I am very open to the students and will try to connect with them as much as possible," Ball said. "If the Student Government Organization asks me to talk to students at an event, I will be there."
For Ball, this accessibility between faculty and students is important. He said it is easy for students to "fly below the radar," but that will not help a struggling student in need of support. He said he wants students to have access to their needs.
According to Kristie Crumley, director of student life at Carroll Community, Ball is drawing connections between the academics, social organizations and co-curriculars for students at the college.
Since Ball has been vice president, Crumley said, he has had a firm grasp on helping students make those connections by providing support to all aspects of the school.
"We want [students] to stay and get involved and know people and start to make connections with the content they are learning," Crumley said. "And that won't happen if they are not in school."
This year, Carroll Community College will continue to host campus-wide activities, such as Super Hero Sequel Week during the Spring Entertainment Series; offer service learning projects to students; and offer the academic-focused clubs and co-curriculars, which help to prepare students for life after college.
Students who are better connected tend to do better in their classes, Crumley said.
Crumley said Ball has made clear his commitment to help more students graduate, increase attendance numbers and increase the number of degrees earned.
Retention through technology
To reach Ball's commitment to increase graduation rates and number of degrees earned, the college is piloting a new Web-based early warning system to alert staff of students who may be struggling in classes.
The multifunctional system will allow students to keep track of their progress through the college, but also serve as an alert system, said Janenne Corcoran, director of advising and transfer at Carroll Community.
If a student is not performing well or missing classes, faculty can use the system to alert the advising department, Corcoran said. The department will then track down the student to help them work through any issues.
The advising department can then pair the student with on-campus services, such as tutoring, which the college offers in any subject, Corcoran added.
The system will also provide students with long-term and short-term planning for classes, Corcoran said. Students will be able to clearly see which classes are only available during the fall or spring semester and how dropping a class will impact their graduation timeline, she said.
The system will be implemented by spring 2015.
"Everyone in here really cares about students and reaches out to students in trouble," Corcoran said. "Some students are more independent, but [through the new system] we're going to make a mandatory check-point so we can watch their progress and keep them on track to earn a degree."
The advising department is staffed to take students on a rolling basis, no appointment needed, and Ball said the college encourages all students to drop in and get advice.
As the American economy still slowly pulls out of one of the biggest slumps in decades, Ball is thinking of ways to push Carroll Community students back into the marketplace by working on initiatives to get students thinking like entrepreneurs.
In the upcoming semesters, the college's Miller Center for Small Business will be working on pushing entrepreneurial education for all students, Ball said.
According to Ball, students need to understand how to think like entrepreneurs and understand opportunities to contract out their skills or freelance. He said the center will also ensure students understand the financial side of business, such as filling out the correct tax forms.
"The business world is very entrepreneurial," Ball said. "Some traditional careers are still unaffected by changes in the economy, but there is a need for entrepreneurial skills in the future."
Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Carroll Community College President James Ball
Previous position: Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at Carroll Community College since 1999.
Education experience: More than 30 years in a community college setting. Previously, Ball worked as the vice president of student services for Howard Community College.
Expertise: Academic and student affairs administration, technology planning and integration, faculty and staff development, fundraising, accreditation process, policy development, budget development/administration, facilities planning and development, and strategic planning.
Education: Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration, Virginia Polytechnic and State University; Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Higher Education Administration, Virginia Polytechnic and State University; Master of Education in Counseling and Student Services/Psychology, North Texas State University (now University of North Texas); Bachelor of Science in Education with a minor in Psychology, North Texas State University.