Ever since he was in the first grade, Volunteer State Community College President Dr. Jerry Faulkner has always enjoyed the first day of school.
A few weeks ago, he got to welcome students back to campus and class for the last time before he retired on Aug. 31.
“There is a mixture of feelings about it,” Faulkner said about his retirement. “There is a lot of happiness, but I’m certainly going to miss the people – both the relationships that we’ve built here in the community and here at the college.
“These nine years have without a doubt been the most rewarding in all of my career in higher education and maybe in my whole life.”
Faulkner began his term as president of Vol State on May 15, 2012.
He previously served as the vice president of academic affairs at Cleveland State Community College from 2008 until 2012. He also held positions at Chattanooga State Community College and Tennessee Temple University.
During his time at Vol State, Faulkner said he spent “a lot of time” working to improve the image of the college and knowledge about it throughout the community.
“When I came here, it was often said that Vol State was the best kept secret in Sumner County,” Faulkner recalled. “I really worked hard to raise the image of the college and I do think that has paid off in terms of helping folks realize what the college has to offer and the contributions it makes to the communities across the 11 counties that we serve in northern Middle Tennessee.”
During his tenure, Faulkner saw the college through a period of steady growth that included a record enrollment of 9,227 students in the fall of 2019, according to a news release.
In 2014, he welcomed the addition of the new Wallace South Health Science Building followed by the $30 million Steinhauer-Rogan-Black Humanities building in 2016. A $6 million expansion and renovation of the Warf Math and Science Building was completed late 2019.
As for academic programs, the college added a RN Nursing associate of applied science degree program during that time. Mechatronics was also expanded from Cookeville to the Gallatin campus in 2018.
“Those are all solid things,” Faulkner said. “The thing that I’m most proud of though is the work that we’ve done here to build a sense of community within the college.
“It’s just such a rewarding opportunity to see a very positive difference that you can make in the lives of people every day.”
College supporters gathered for a retirement celebration and portrait unveiling for Faulkner recently during an event held at the Lighthouse Center in Hendersonville. The portrait was painted Memphis artist Glenda Shaw Brown and will hang in the Ramer Great Hall on the Vol State Gallatin campus.
During the program, Faulkner was presented with the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy from the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR). The Vol State College Foundation Board of Trustees also announced a $21,231 endowment on behalf of Faulkner and his wife Wanda.
Grace Tomkins, who has served as a trustee with the foundation since 1989, described Faulkner as the “most outgoing, enthusiastic and approachable” president the college has had so far.
“In his nine years here, there has been tremendous growth at the college,” Tomkins added. “Jerry Faulkner has put Vol State at the forefront of community colleges and has helped us spread our wings.”
In July, the TBR unanimously selected Dr. Orinthia Montague to become the fourth president in Vol State’s 50-year history. Montague, who had previously served as the president of Tompkins Cortland Community College in N.Y. since 2017, who started in her new role Sept. 1.
While he has enjoyed spending nearly a decade in Sumner County, Faulkner, who is 70, and his wife will be moving to East Tennessee where they will be closer to their family and just five miles from the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. He plans to spend more time hiking, biking, traveling and focusing on photography. He also has not ruled out a part-time return to education.
As for Volunteer State Community College, Faulkner said he believes the school has a “tremendous future” ahead of it.
“Where many areas of the U.S. are retracting, we’re growing here in Middle Tennessee and… that will fuel enrollment for the college,” Faulkner said. “We have a fantastic team that is in place there that I have had the great honor of working with and I believe that Dr. Montague is going to do an outstanding job of leading the college into the future.”