President Stephens to Retire from South Florida State College
After 10 years of guiding the college through institutional growth and transformation, South Florida State College (SFSC) president Dr. Norman L. Stephens Jr. has announced that he will retire from the college’s top post effective June 30, 2013.
“This decision was made with considerable difficulty and not without second and third thoughts,” Dr. Stephens said. “After 45 years in the community college world, I’m ready to join my wife Laurie in a new phase of our lives in active retirement.”
“In the 47 years of this great institution’s existence, we have worked under the leadership of only three presidents, each outstanding,” said Tami Cullens, chair, SFSC District Board of Trustees. “Such a feat is unheard of. As tough a decision as it was for Dr. Stephens to make, he is well-deserving of this time to write, travel, and just go out and ‘play.’ It is difficult to let go of a man as outstanding as Dr. Stephens, but as he moves on, so must we.”
Since coming to SFSC on Sept. 3, 2002, Dr. Stephens has championed numerous changes for the college. In July 2012, South Florida Community College became South Florida State College. This fall term, the college began offering a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Supervision and Management, which has laid the groundwork for future bachelor’s degrees in nursing and elementary education. Also on the horizon will be the Bioenergy Education Program in conjunction with BP-Highlands that launches in January 2013. During Dr. Stephens’ tenure, the college saw the addition of programs in radiography, dental hygiene, dental assisting, paramedic certification, practical nursing at the Hardee Campus, and auto collision repair at the DeSoto Campus.
Of particular note are the accolades SFSC received as a result of Dr. Stephens’ emphasis on excellence in education. Upon reviewing the college for its reaffirmation of its accreditation in November 2011, the visitation team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission (SACS) on Colleges had no recommendations for the college. In other words, the college was found to be an educational institution of the highest standards. As part of its reaffirmation of accreditation, SFSC created the Guide to Personal Success (GPS), a new and comprehensive student orientation, a First-Year Experience seminar, and a Teaching Excellence Institute. The SACS visitation team cited the GPS’s development process as an educational best practice.
Further, SFSC was among 120 out of over 1,200 community colleges across the United States to be nominated for the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, not just once but two years in a row. SFSC’s reputation, its outstanding faculty, and community support have made SFSC the college of first choice for Highlands, Hardee, and DeSoto county high school students. Four out of five, or 80 percent, of first-time college-bound graduates in its tri-county district attend SFSC.
Dr. Stephens encouraged partnerships with local entities to enhance the educational experience of students, such as through the development of the Career Academy of South Florida State College in partnership with the Highlands County School District in August 2008. The program allows 10th, 11th, and 12th graders to take required high school courses and select college technical courses, preparing them to enter the workforce and to continue their education. Remedial programs were established at SFSC, such as the Summer Bridge Program, helping at-risk high school students prepare to enter college and the workforce. SFSC’s Academic Foundations program began in fall 2011 to help students improve in the areas of language skills and mathematics.
Under Dr. Stephens’ leadership, SFSC has made significant strides in fostering and facilitating an institution-wide culture of data-informed decision making and continuous improvement.
Although a significant amount of facility construction and renovation has taken place since Dr. Stephens took the helm at SFSC in 2002, two projects stand out. In 2010, SFSC’s 30-year-old auditorium was completely remodeled and reintroduced to the community as the SFSC Theatre for the Performing Arts. The Health and Science Education Center was completed in 2007 and proved to be an excellent example of collaborative planning and efficiency by four Florida community colleges with similar program needs at a time when construction costs were soaring. Dr. Stephens, whose background is in the natural sciences, was personally involved in planning and developing this project.
Dr. Stephens is known for his concern for the well-being of students and employees. Most telling of his caring attitude were his efforts during the devastating 2004 hurricane season. He directed preparedness and recovery efforts in the wake of three hurricanes that struck the college’s service district within a six-week period, causing more than $1 million in damage. Throughout this trying time, Dr. Stephens led a tremendous effort to serve the community during the storms and to minimize the disruption of services to students in the aftermath.
“I’m most proud of the learning culture we’ve created together,” Dr. Stephens said. “Our faculty and staff are competent and empowered to pursue excellence, they actively participate in the processes and decisions that facilitate continuous improvement, and they interact with each other and with our students with respect and with genuine understanding. It is a healthy environment for working and learning.
“All of these things happened on my watch,” he said, “but they were realized through the exemplary efforts of others, many others. These successes are also a tribute to the solid foundation established under the leadership of my predecessor Dr. Catherine P. Cornelius and many dedicated board members who served this college through the years.”
The SFSC District Board of Trustees will begin the process of seeking Dr. Stephens’ successor with the appointment of a search consultant during the Oct. 24 board meeting.