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Working to make Lanier Tech best
Vandiver took helm at college earlier this month
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Lanier Technical College President Russell Vandiver answers a phone call Tuesday inside his office. Vandiver started working in admissions and recruiting at the college in 1976. A few years later, he became the vice president of economic development. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Russell Vandiver, 57, has a favorite saying: If you continue to do things the same way, expect to see the same results.

As the new president of Lanier Technical College, which serves seven counties in Northeast Georgia, Vandiver said he is looking to build on a legacy of service as well as explore new ideas to carry the college into the next century.

"My philosophy is we have a job to do and this college is here for the students," Vandiver said. "The mission of our college is without a doubt work force development. It has served our college well and served our students and graduates well."

Vandiver, who also currently serves as vice president of economic development at Lanier Tech, said he has never strayed far from Hall County, where he has worked at the college since 1976. From his mid-size community, Vandiver has earned a national reputation as a dynamic individual and an expert on economic development.

"He's a very good leader and he makes things happen," said colleague Joanne Tolleson, vice president of institutional effectiveness and operations.

Vandiver took leadership of the college in February after his predecessor, Mike Moye, left to become president of Central Georgia Technical College in Macon. He was appointed president Sept. 2. In his first weeks at the helm, Vandiver has been easing into his new role and taking time to listen before taking action.

This October, Vandiver said he will visit each of the college's five campuses to meet with instructors and staff of every program to evaluate needs such as equipment and space.

"I don't know how you can make decisions if you don't have firsthand information," he said.

One of his first orders of business, Vandiver said, is to hire a marketing director at Lanier Tech.

"We've done a really good job of advertising for potential students over the years," he said. "What I don't think we've done a particularly good job of is using that brand name for the college that is easily recognizable. Not only will our current students be recognized for going to a really good technical school but also our graduates."

Under Vandiver's direction, the school also will be converting to the semester system next summer.

"Anytime you have that kind of change, you have a certain number of students enrolled under a quarter system and there's new students enrolled under the semester system. Typically what happens is your credit hours are going to drop simply because of that conversion," he said.

To avoid an enrollment decrease as a result, Vandiver said his staff is preparing ways to help students maximize their hours.

Also in the works is an additional accreditation for the school, which will make it easier for students to transfer to other certified colleges, he said.

Vandiver has been associated with the Lanier Tech for more than 30 years, working in admissions and economic development. He said he has witnessed the campus expand from 150 students in 1976 to about 6,800 students today.

With the state of the economy, he said the campus has seen a large influx of students who want to develop skills for when the job market recovers. Enrollment increased by 22 percent last fall quarter and he expects an additional 20 percent growth this fall.

"We're not sure where that growth is going to stop. The online courses have been our salvation as far as these numbers," he said.

With budget cuts from the state and federal level, which have touched campuses across the U.S., Vandiver said the college has recruited more adjunct teachers, who also are industry professionals. About 70 percent of the staff members work part time.

"There's no way you can have less money and more students and be able to keep the business going without using part-time folks. There's a real thin line between having all the enrollment you want and being able to have quality programs," Vandiver said.

Vandiver said despite the enrollment issues, marketing is still a priority.

"Wisdom says that if you have more students, why would you want to start working on branding and marketing? We are one uptick in the economy from having a whole lot of students to having a lot fewer students," he said.

Vandiver said he believes a college cannot be run as a business, but business principles can be used to help the college grow.

As vice president of economic development, Vandiver customized contract training for more than 2,500 businesses and industries. He was also instrumental in the creation of the college's Manufacturing Development Center, a business incubator in Gainesville that opened in 2007.

Though Vandiver will hire a new vice president to assume the day-to-day responsibilities of the position, economic development is something he doesn't plan to desert.

"I'm going to do a lot of the things I've always done out in the community, working with economic development and trying to help promote and bring jobs to Georgia and our service delivery area," he said. "Personally, I think that should be one of the primary jobs of the president of a technical college."

For his long-term vision, Vandiver hopes to create a new building on the Oakwood campus to support health programs, a growing field in Hall County.

After what many would consider a full career at the college, Vandiver said he was looking at retirement before he accepted the offer to become president. A second career was something he hadn't predicted.

It's not uncommon for him to work 10-hour days, and work an additional couple of hours at home, responding to e-mails, he said.

"I guess when you start down the road doing stuff I'm doing now and have all these challenges, having that home base you can depend on is really important," he said.

Vandiver has been married to his wife Laura for 35 years.

Their son Josh and wife Amanda have two children, a son Jackson and a daughter Taylor.

Vandiver adds that the purpose of the college is to give people skills to be competitive in an already tough job market, which he said he can understand from a family standpoint. He has seen his son grapple with the real estate industry, which was struck hard by the recession.

"Seeing that firsthand drives a lot of decisions I try to make at this college," he said.

 

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