Jody Darby is someone who always wants to improve at his job.
The executive director of student financial services at Chattahoochee Technical College recently graduated from the Technical College System of Georgia’s 2015-16 Executive Leadership Academy, a 10-month program designed for TCSG employees who, through their experience, training and education, show high potential to grow into stronger leadership roles and move into upper-level positions.
Darby, 38, was one of 25 class participants chosen from 11 different departments to represent TCSG colleges all across the state at the highly competitive academy, which started last July.
“I do love my career in higher education, and I can’t imagine my life otherwise,” he said. “While I don’t deal with students on a daily basis, as I have in years past as a front-line employee, I know the staff in student financial services affects thousands of lives — seen and unseen. Any tool that I can learn, acquire and use to add to my toolbox of knowledge, the better of a job I can do for those in my area. I see a big part of my job is to make my staff’s jobs easier, either by breaking down barriers, shedding light on information and/or advocating on their behalf. They have the hard jobs, really. I have extraordinary managers in SFS, too, who are tenured subject-matter experts and leaders themselves. Too, I have always been one who likes to ‘burn the candle at both ends,’ some would say. I like staying busy, but knowing that students are taken care of is my goal. The more I can learn to help my staff who can then help their staff and students, the better we as a college will operate.”
“He has helped students that are able to continue their education because he went the extra mile,” she said in a press release. “He has encouraged staff and been a listening ear. He has served his peers by being named in various officer positions within the financial aid peer group. He has served as an ambassador to the college on his own time and various functions during the week and on the weekend.”
Darby said CTC’s president’s office reviewed the senior leadership — executive directors, deans and vice presidents — to decide who the college’s nominee would be.
“Gathering input from the vice presidents, [President Dr. Ron Newcomb] recommends a participant to TCSG,” he said.
During the program, participants were required to complete 75 hours of instructional activities, which included a project that was carefully designed to address leadership issues directly related to improving the academic environment at their institutions.
Darby said topics for the project were randomly assigned, and he and his four teammates were given “How would you increase enrollment?”
“Higher-education enrollment has an inverse relationship, generally speaking, with the U.S. economy,” he said. “Unemployment in 2015 hovered around 5 percent, and enrollment was about 136,000. Our country’s unemployment rates have improved — important for the economy as a whole — while enrollment at our colleges has decreased 30 percent.
“While no one has the magic solution for enrollment that would work for each college, our group recommended several ideas that we thought were important for the system overall. Our approach was divided into three areas: offer an Associate of Science degree in general studies, focus on our roots and more attention to articulation agreements — partnerships.”
Participants also toured the Kia Motors Manufacturing plant in West Point, Quick Start in Atlanta, Georgia Bioscience Training Center and the Georgia Port Authority in Savannah as part of the academy.
While topics ranged from ethics to strategic planning, Darby said the most beneficial item for him “wasn’t found on any meeting’s agenda or presenter’s slides of a speech.”
“It’s perspective,” he said. “Until we grasp perspective and acknowledge it, we are stifling our colleges and our students we are attempting to serve.
My class was comprised of people from all areas of the state’s technical colleges from every corner of the state and in between. No matter where our college is located nor how many students we enroll and graduate, we are all working towards the same goal: student success. Success is defined differently per student. The way we assist students may be a little different depending on demographics or staffing or access to resources, but we’re all working toward that same common goal.”
While many at CTC praise Darby as being a leader, he admits it’s not an easy task, but leadership positions can be attained with a little motivation and a positive attitude.
“We heard from a college president each time that our group met,” he said. “That college president told us the story of how he or she became president, what their challenges are, where they see higher education and TCSG headed in the future, etc. Not one of them said, ‘You know, one day I just woke up, applied for a position as president and was hired the next day, and every day is complete joy.’ Reality is that success takes work. We are only as strong as our weakest link as leaders. We must continue to grow those within our administrative capability and serve as a true resource.”