After four months of saying goodbye to colleagues at a school in North Carolina where worked for seven years, Jim Eck said he is happy with his “fresh opportunity” as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Brenau University.
Eck, who served at Louisburg College in North Carolina, was selected for the Brenau post in January, but stayed at Louisburg until the end of the semester and started his new job May 31.
“I think the newness and the challenge and Tabula rasa (a Latin term often translated as “blank slate”) are all things that make this exciting to me,” Eck said in an interview with The Times Friday. “I’m excited to be here and meeting the new faculty and meeting the people in the community and beginning to understand a little bit about Brenau, understanding what makes this place unique and what I can do here to make this a better university in the days ahead.”
Among the things that he has already learned about his new school are Brenau’s diversity courses of study offered as well as the fact that the students on different campuses can get their classes in person, online or a combination of both.
“Brenau is a pretty complex institution,” he said. “I think therein lies the challenge and therein lies the opportunity for us to work together and chart the strongest academic mission that we can.”
A native of Fredericksburg, Va., Eck had been at Louisburg College, a two-year institution northeast of Raleigh, since 2010. He served as provost there as well. In the past he had also worked at Samford University in Alabama and Rollins University in Florida.
Among his degrees is a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Georgia, something he thought of when he learned of the Brenau opening.
“I have always thought about returning to Georgia; we enjoyed our time in Athens,” said Eck, who lived there while working on his degree from 1994-97.
In his new job, Eck oversees Brenau’s academic program and he said he is already working on goals.
“I want to do what I can to enhance the academic reputation of the university,” he said. “I think it is already strong; it is already solidified, but there are always opportunities for continuous improvement. We want to be careful to do things carefully, intentionally and strategically in a planned and organized way so that we’re not creating chaos ... but that we are working collaboratively to take our next steps forward. as a university.”
One of the efforts Eck said he will work on will be retaining students.
“It’s not necessarily a warning light on the dashboard, but what we want to do is think about strategies,” he said.”If we could retain four to eight new students a year — that’s 1-2 percent improvement in our student retention rate in the women’s college, at least. That’s money well spent. If a student is academically integrated, they enjoy their classes, they enjoy their faculty, they feel good about the major they’ve selected, that’s half the battle.”
With graduate degrees in psychology, business and education, Eck said he has taught college and university in all three areas of study and will likely teach some at Brenau.
“I may take a year to learn the job well,” he said. “I enjoy teaching. I’ve taught pretty much every year I’ve been in academic administration, at least one class. I really think that’s important because it keeps you connected to the students.”
He is also working with faculty in a program called Scholarship of Teaching which he said works to help develop faculty members as teachers.
“The one-size-fits-all lecture sometimes isn’t the most effective way to teach, especially at a place like Brenau where you have face-to-face instruction, hybrid instruction, and online instruction,” Eck said. “So, we’re trying to help the faculty have a nimble set of tools to use on their instructional tool belts so they can reach students wherever they’re at.”