By Brandon Martin
The prospect of becoming the head of any college or university would be an honor to most, but to Dr. James “Greg” Hodges, it would mark the realization of a dream that began in 1986.
Hodges, who is among a slate of four finalists vying to become Patrick Henry Community College’s (PHCC) next president, recalled Mrs. Gracie Preston, more commonly known now as Gracie Agnew, head of Carlisle School, was the first to recognize something in him that he had not seen in himself.
The revelation came in a college preparatory English class at Drewry Mason High School, according to Hodges, who recalled that Agnew assigned each student an American poem and poet to use as inspiration for a lesson plan to teach the rest of the class.
Hodges’ poem was “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson.
“I did my due diligence and I spent two weeks researching it,” Hodges said. “It is now time, and we are back in class. Each student is being called up one by one to present. Candidly, most of the students stood up and talked for about 10 minutes.”
After the individual presentations, Hodges said Agnew congratulated each student on their performance.
Hodges’ presentation was the last one scheduled that day.
“I didn’t just talk. I had handouts for everybody, I did my little overhead sheet,” Hodges said. “I put students in groups. My lesson ended up being about 25 minutes when it was supposed to be 10-15.”
When Hodges finished his presentation, he did not get the same courtesy that Agnew had extended to his peers.
“There was just this stone-cold silence,” he said. “It got to be uncomfortable, and Mrs. Agnew said ‘Gregory, did you drive to school today?’ I said, ‘yes ma’am, I did.’ She said, ‘would you stop by the room when you leave?’”
At the time, Hodges recalled he feared the worst.
“The last bell rings and I go to my locker and I got my stuff to go down to her classroom,” Hodges said. “She already had a seat pulled up beside her desk.”
There, Agnew talked to Hodges about his future career plans.
“She said ‘you were created to be an educator,’” Hodges recalled. “She looked at me and said, ‘some people choose education for a career and education calls others.’ She said, ‘you’ve been called into this. I want you to remember the conversation that we are having today.’”
“I wish I could tell you that I got it then and that I understood it then,” Hodges said, adding that he went on to study at William and Mary, and eventually discovered that Agnew’s “words were entirely accurate.”
Having found his path in life, Hodges worked his way up, through the local school systems and into his current position of Vice President of Academics and Student Success Services and is on the precipice of becoming the next president of Patrick Henry Community College.
Hodges is familiar with the college, and said he is proud of the strides that have been made to make the college a preferred choice for students locally and nationwide.
“I think we have done an incredibly good job in this community of overcoming community college stigma that seems to permeate much of our nation,” Hodges said. “I don’t think the welding students that drive onto our campus in a brand-new F-150 that they paid cash for see us as a college of last resort.
“I don’t think the nursing and allied health students who are having signing bonuses thrown at them before they ever graduate from the program see us as a last resort. I don’t think the 700 plus SEED students who we’ve educated in the last three years see us as a last resort. And I don’t think the thousands of athletes that we’ve brought onto our campus, not only from our local service region but from out-of-state and internationally as well, see us as a last resort. I think they recognize what we are,” Hodges said.
Rather, the challenge has more to do with getting the word out about the successes that can be found on campus, he said.
“There is not a need that students have that we don’t help them navigate,” Hodges said. PHCC is “just an absolute jewel in the center of this community, and I think we’ve done a fantastic job in the last several years of changing the mindset that it’s a college of last resort instead of a college of first choice. We need the community’s help in continuing to tell the story and sell the story.”
Part of that story is how the college has been vital to ongoing economic development efforts.
“That’s the bread and butter of what we do. That’s the heartbeat of why we exist,” Hodges said. “We don’t tell local business and industry leaders what they need. They tell us what they need.”
Along with the Business & Industry Leadership Teams (BILTs), Hodges said the PHCC also relies on advisory councils.
“Advisory councils help inform us on a regular basis about directions that our career and technical (education) programs need to go. They are incredibly valuable,” Hodges said. “All community colleges have advisory councils for their CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs, but Patrick Henry takes this a step further. By engaging in (BILTs), we bring business and industry partners into our convenings by sector.”
Hodges said the business leaders for each sector are asked to list the skills and competencies their employees need before entering the workforce.
“We then backfill the credential process,” Hodges said. “We then create the career studies certificates, the associate degrees. We embed the short-term workforce training skills into those degree pathways, so the students get advanced learning opportunities.”
Some examples of recent successes in this area have been PHCC helping Henry County to attract Press Glass and Crown Holdings to the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre.
“Patrick Henry is really head and shoulders above most community colleges in the degree in which we engage with our local business leaders and get those high-paying careers,” Hodges said. “We also need to look at equity from these career aspects. When we lay out our programs, we know that we have low, medium and high-wage degrees. We have to examine program enrollments in each of those to ensure that we are in fact, with our credentials, taking students out of poverty and getting them into the middle class.”
One avenue that students can take to achieve this is through trade careers, according to Hodges.
“We as a community must make trades attractive again,” Hodges said. “We must help folks understand the incredible value, the incredible lucrative careers, that are available for those that undertake and go into trade professions.”
To promote this further, Hodges said that PHCC must ensure that its CTE courses are aligned with workforce indicators.
“We partner with our dual-enrollment partners, all three areas of our service region, to make sure that we are offering the programs that students can engage in at the trade level and then also ensuring that they have experience with that along the route,” Hodges said. “To our business and industry partners, we need their assistance in having work-based learning. The quicker we can get those students engaged in those trades, the more likely they are to understand the value of them.”
By taking these initiatives, Hodges is hopeful that PHCC will continue to help diversify the workforce━something he already credits the college with masterfully performing in its enrollment demographics.
“Students have the right, in fact it is our responsibility, to allow students to see themselves on our campus,” Hodges said. “I mean the administration, the faculty full-time and part-time, and the staff.”
According to Hodges, the service region for PHCC is 20 percent diverse.
“One out of five is a person of color,” he said. “When you look at those areas on our campus ━ administration, faculty part-time, faculty full-time, and staff ━ in three of the four areas, we are more diverse than the community that we serve. We’ve made incredible strides at Patrick Henry in the last 10 years in diversifying our staff, our faculty, and our administration.”
Compared to 10 years ago when five percent of the administrators at PHCC were people of color, the campuses now boast 24 percent.
“That means that when students come to our campus, the administrators that they see are more diverse than the community that we serve,” Hodges said. “We need to shout that from the rooftops.”
If heard, Hodges believes potential students will see in PHCC what he has seen all along.
“I was born and raised here. I’m a product of this school division,” Hodges said. “I started my relationship with Patrick Henry as a student here many, many, many years ago. We sometimes take for granted all that we have here.”
Hodges said he is not applying for any other presidential positions. There is only one he wants to be.
“I’ve applied to one presidency and it’s the presidency of Patrick Henry,” he said. “If I am not selected to be the institution’s next president, my hope and prayer is that the next president will see in me something of value and allow me to do the good work here.
“This is not about the next rung on my career ladder,” he said. “I’m not interested in parlaying this into a bigger institution. I applied to this presidency because I believe I am a good fit for this college, this campus and this community. I’m a product of this community. I’m proud of this community. My family and I made a decision years ago, that despite opportunities to go elsewhere, this is home, and this is where we want to stay.”
Hodges has 17-years of experience in higher education. He began his career in the field in 2004 as an assistant professor of Education Assisting at Patrick Henry Community College. In 2007, he became the Assistant Dean of Arts, Science and Business Technology. Following this, he moved into the Dean of Developmental Education and Transitional Programs role. Two years later, he became the Dean of Academic Success and College Transfer. In 2016, he rose to become the Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Effectiveness and Campus Life. A year later, he was named to his current position. He has been an Achieving the Dream Workforce and Leadership Coach since 2017.
Hodges earned his bachelor’s degree at the College of William and Mary. He holds two master’s degrees, one from Bethany Theological Seminary and the other from the University of Phoenix. He earned his doctorate from Trident University International.