Dr. Tom Leitzel Takes Helm of SFSC
On July 1, 2013, Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel became the fourth president of South Florida State College.
The son of a United Methodist minister, Dr. Leitzel grew up near Harrisburg, Pa. He credits mentors throughout his life with steering him into education, beginning with an experience in a high school law class. “The teacher picked on me, and I hated it,” Dr. Leitzel said. “After the class was over, I realized he was only trying to make me think. We became friends, and later he even worked for me. Throughout my life, I’ve had the most wonderful mentors who opened doors and created opportunities by giving me sound, wise advice.”
While earning an associate in science degree from Pennsylvania College of Technology and a bachelor of arts degree in business administration from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Dr. Leitzel felt a calling to enter education while interacting with professors who loved their jobs. “I thought there must be a lot of reward in education, and it would be fun to do,” he said. “I kept that in the back of my mind.” Relationships with these professors and some measure of good fortune paid off in 1978, when, at age 22, he was invited to become an assistant professor of business administration for Pennsylvania College of Technology, where he taught classes in marketing, management, human relations. He later taught organizational communications, statistics, and research methods in a graduate Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program at Pfeiffer University. He also held several other jobs outside of education – working in retail sales and as a vice president of marketing for an automotive firm.
Former professors and peers continued to advise him, and from their mentorship he developed a personal philosophy that guides his life. “When wise people speak, one listens. That’s almost theological – the small voice of God speaking,” Dr. Leitzel said. “When you listen to smart people and you heed their advice, they don’t lead you wrong. That’s truly what happened in my life and that’s why I do what I do now – because people led me to this.” He strongly believes in servant leadership and a work ethic that values integrity and customer service. “I think we’re all called to serve,” he said. “But as educators, we’re here to serve our students and empower them to make a difference.”
Dr. Leitzel earned his master of science degree in education administration from Temple University in 1982 and his doctor of philosophy degree in community and junior college administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1993. He completed additional graduate studies at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Maryland, and Bloomsburg University.
In 1981, Dr. Leitzel began his administrative career as the evening and weekend coordinator for the Business and Computer Science Division of Pennsylvania College of Technology and became its assistant director of Business and Computer Technologies. He was the associate dean for Business, Science, and Technology for Chesapeake College, Wye Mills, Md., and a graduate research assistant for Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Pa. He served as dean of Business, Health, and Technologies for Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., dean of Pfeiffer University’s School of Graduate Studies, and vice president of Pfeiffer’s Charlotte Campus. Before coming to SFSC, he was president of the Technical College of the Lowcountry, in Beaufort, S.C., for five years.
Dr. Leitzel’s work has also been published in multiple educational journals, including the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, The Community Services Catalyst, the Journal of Studies in Technical Careers, Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, and other publications for educators. He has made presentations to the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, the National Council on Occupational Education, and the League for Innovation in the Community College.
The most rewarding aspect of his 35-year career as a college professor and administrator is watching students succeed. “It’s the reason we’re here,” Dr. Leitzel said. “Our biggest reward comes when we’re changing lives. We do it in this profession so well, and it’s evident everywhere. You don’t have to go to commencement to see it happen, although that is certainly the culmination of that educational investment. One sees it every day in the classroom, and that is what’s so exciting – to be able to work in an institution where we make teaching and learning a priority.”
As Dr. Leitzel reflects on his own youth as a student working his way through college, one driving force connects him to the current generation of students, who are now mapping their own futures as he once did: a vision. “Craft the vision of where you want to go,” he said. “Then be prepared to sacrifice, work hard, study hard, and get to know the faculty who will become your mentors. It worked well for me, and I’ve seen it work over and over again. It’s the recipe for success.”
He also encourages students to take advantage of learning opportunities that are come from participating in clubs, organizations, and sports. “I get excited about student activities because it’s a different dimension of learning,” he said.
Dr. Leitzel is married to Nancy, who teaches theater and dance to middle school students. They have one daughter, Lindsey, who is now studying chemical engineering as a freshman at the University of South Carolina and the only freshman member to be offered a place on its dance team. His other companion is Bentley, a three-year-old mixed-breed dog he received last year as a birthday present. Because he spent extended vacations in near Miami in his youth, he feels perfectly accustomed to Florida’s subtropical climate and finds no special novelty in its native alligators, having recently parted with one his family named Fluffy that lived in the pond behind his South Carolina home. He looks forward to enjoying his favorite outdoor pastimes, including playing tennis, golfing, and boating through Florida’s miles of causeways.
But mostly he is eager to begin SFSC’s next phase as it begins its development as a four-year degree-granting institution.
“As I see it, my job is to foster a culture for innovation,” Dr. Leitzel said. “We’re just going to be the best institution in the world.”