For the past 37 years, Tim McDonald has helped students at Lanier Technical College find their success stories -- much like he achieved his own.
On April 1 McDonald, a Lanier Tech alumnus, became the president of the five-campus institution.
“All of my success in life was built on what I learned as a student at Lanier Tech,” he said.
Even before he dove into his machinist studies at the school, McDonald said his life was intertwined with the college.
He grew up living next door to Fred Frady, who started up Lanier Tech’s machine tool program, and even visited the college in the early ‘70s while on an elementary school field trip.
As a junior at Johnson High School, McDonald said he took a vocational aptitude test that pointed him in the direction of mechanical-related jobs. During his senior year, he decided to get his feet wet and try out metal fabrication and transportation classes. While finishing out high school, he began working part-time for Bill Chandler at Chandler Equipment Co., then went on to become a full-time staff member after graduation.
Soon afterward, Frady, who had left Lanier Tech, offered McDonald a job at Peerless-Winsmith, a manufacturing company in Flowery Branch. McDonald said he accepted the job and was advised by Frady to earn a degree at Lanier Tech.
“I was still working full-time when I went to school full-time,” he said. “I took the night shift job and went to school during the day.”
While attending college, McDonald said he met Dugar Strickland, someone who would have a tremendous impact on his life.
“I guess he saw something and not only took an interest in me and my training, but beyond that,” McDonald said. “He’s the one that encouraged me to apply for the instructor position when they were expanding the (machine tool technology) program.”
McDonald went on to become an instructor at Lanier Tech in his early 20s, teaching anywhere from 12-16 classes, including intro to machine tools, computer-aided manufacturing and others.
“For me, it was fulfilling a passion for me to serve and teach, and help others follow their dreams,” he said. “After about the third or fourth year, I knew this is what I needed to be doing.”
While teaching, McDonald earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology at Southern Polytechnic State University.
Over the course of 25 years, he taught thousands of students, many of whom have since started their own businesses and pursued careers in manufacturing.
McDonald said he’ll never forget one student in particular: Matt Dobbs.
He remembers Dobbs, who is a parapalegic and uses a wheel chair, approaching him in the early 2000s.
“He came to me, and he said, ‘I don’t want to be a Walmart greeter,’” McDonald recounted. “He wanted more.”
Through the help of several agencies, McDonald said Dobbs was able to acquire a chair that would stand his body up, giving him the support he needed to work in the machine tools program.
“He learned to machine and has been very successful as a CNC (computer numerical control) programmer,” McDonald said.
The Lanier Tech president also remembers his student Brandon Dornak, who now owns a company in Braselton. In 2007, he said Dornak won a SkillsUSA national gold medal.
At his 25-year mark as an instructor, McDonald said he came to a point in his career where he wanted to seek a new horizon. When a dean position opened up at Lanier Tech’s Dawson campus, McDonald realized he was qualified for the role.
He said the late Russell Vandiver, who was the college’s vice president of economic development at the time, confronted him about the position and said, “Boy, you better do it.”
McDonald got the job, serving as the Dawson campus dean from 2009-2012.
He later became the vice president for economic development after Vandiver was named the college’s sixth president. While in this role, he earned his master’s in business administration from Brenau University.
In 2016, he went on to becoming Lanier Tech’s executive vice president.
“I was never looking for advancements, I wanted to be the best I could be for the college,” he said. “The opportunities found me, and there was always someone or some people at that time that encouraged me.”
McDonald added that he couldn’t have juggled earning his degrees with his jobs at Lanier Tech without the support of his wife, Kim. Coincidentally, McDonald said he met her when she worked for the college.
After Ray Perren, Lanier Tech’s seventh president, was named deputy commissioner for technical education for the Technical College System of Georgia in November 2020, McDonald took on the interim president role. Months later, it became official.
“First and foremost, I view this (president) position as a service position to our staff, faculty and students,” McDonald said. “It’s my job to make sure we’re providing the adequate resources and support to accomplish the mission. I also see my role as I’ve got to provide leadership, I’ve got to be the example and provide the vision of where we’re going next.”
Now as the college’s president, McDonald said he has focused on growing Lanier Tech’s apprenticeship programs and solidifying partnerships with local companies. The institution recently launched a quality control technician apprenticeship program, which is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor through the college’s economic development department.
The training curriculum for the program has been developed from a consortium of local companies including Bitzer US, IMS Gear, King’s Hawaiian, Murray Plastics, Ranger Manufacturing, Tsubaki Nakashima and Freudenberg NOK.
While taking on his president duties, McDonald said he will continue to lead the adult education program, which he feels passionate about.
For those students who have yet to meet him, McDonald said he wants them to know he’s proud of them and looks forward to one day calling them fellow alumni at graduation.
“Lanier Tech has been my life, and I care for every student,” McDonald said, emotion in his voice. “I was one of them.”