A new year will mean a change in leadership at the Greenville Technical College. Les Gardner, director of development, and Bob Howard, president of the Greenville Tech Foundation, are retiring at the end of this year. GSA Business Report reached out to each of them to talk about their experiences and what they have planned for the future.
GSA: How long have each of you worked at Greenville Tech? And please share any memorable stories or anecdotes you have from your time there.
Howard: I have worked here nine years. My most memorable stories involve the students we help. I recall the man who received a $100 emergency grant to help him stay in school and after graduation returned with a $150 gift to “pay it forward.” I recall a woman needing work who was widowed and got a scholarship from us, leading to an accounting degree and a good job. Another student got one of our scholarships and was able to keep a promise he made to his dying father to become the first in the family to get a college degree. We have single mothers, students who are taking classes while working full-time, students coming to us from high school eager to get an education to begin their careers, students coming here for a two-year degree to transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree, and students coming to us in their 50s and 60s seeking retraining for a new career. People who meet our students never forget them, and I never will either.
Gardner: I started at the Greenville Tech Foundation on Aug. 1, 2003, a few days
before the final celebration announcement to wrap up a successful several years-long capital campaign. One of my first tasks was to help set up for the celebration event. As I listened, I began to believe that raising funds for the Greenville Tech Foundation would be an easy task. The campaign volunteers and my new work colleagues were so excited about having significantly exceeded their goal. It only took me a couple days of working after the celebration ended to realize the error of my observation. Though I had been active in the Greenville community for more than 20 years, two days of phone calling yielded not one single appointment.
A couple years after Dr. (Tom) Barton’s (former college president) retirement, while talking with a prospective significant donor, the prospect asked me if I thought it would be okay for him to call Dr. Barton to invite him to play a round of golf. I suggested he phone Dr. Barton and told him his home phone number was in the telephone directory. The prospect insisted that I ask Dr. Barton. When I called Dr. Barton to ask, he said he would welcome the call from the prospect, someone he had known for years, and would gladly play golf with him. Dr. Barton added that he couldn’t play golf on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. I thanked Dr. Barton and told him I would pass the message on to the donor. Dr. Barton said he wanted to tell me why he couldn’t play golf on those days. He said he was 78 years old, had both knees replaced, and his tennis game wasn’t what it used to be. He said that on those days he was working with a tennis coach to “get his game back.”
The ongoing challenge of making people aware of the value of Greenville Technical College was brought home one day as I lunched with an attorney in his mid-40s. With the exception of the three years he spent in Columbia at law school, he had lived in Greenville all of his life. When I asked him to tell me about his interactions with Greenville Tech, his response was, “That’s those buildings on Cleveland Street between Pleasantburg Drive and Faris Road, isn’t it?” I responded positively. He continued, “I drive by it every day on my way to our office.”
GSA: What are some of the changes you’ve seen over the years in giving, partnerships, students, etc.?
Howard: First, 20 years ago, it was quite common to receive gifts with no restrictions – in other words, gifts to use in the area of greatest need. Today, only 10% of our gifts are in that category. Most donors want to know how their money will be used and will have questions about the details of the planned use of funds. Second, donors are focusing their giving more. We see more people who are making fewer “small” gifts so they can make some larger gifts and see the impact of that gift on an organization. Third, with the proliferation of non-profit organizations, donors are interested in seeing charities coordinate and work together as partners (and even consider mergers if such a move would save administrative costs). Donors today are more aware of a charity’s overhead. Fourth, more donors want to know what a non-profit’s strategic goals are and want to know how it measures outcomes. Finally, more donors want to be engaged to a greater degree with the organizations they support.
Gardner: The most significant change has been in the perception of the value of Greenville Technical College to our community and potential donors. Early in my tenure it was most difficult to cause people to believe that Greenville Tech students needed financial assistance, that the college needed financial assistance, and that such financial assistance was a wise investment by the donors. Over the years, the awareness and acceptance of the significant value of a Greenville Tech education and the understanding that the students at GTC need financial assistance have become greater. Willingness to listen to us and to support the students and the college have greatly increased.
GSA: What do you see as the value in partnerships and collaborations between business and education?
Howard: Collaborations and partnerships with business and industry are critical to educational institutions. Without this contact we risk teaching things that do not meet the workforce needs of local employers. With this contact, we ensure that our students will graduate with the skills to get better jobs and have better lives.
Gardner: If individuals and the community are to succeed economically, there must be a skilled workforce. There is significant demand for skills obtained at a college like Greenville Tech. However, in order to keep costs at a level students can afford, businesses, individuals and foundations must give financial assistance in some form. Additionally, as a result of solid partnership with business, educators will be better able to design training curricula that will meet business needs enabling the students to become more successful employees.
GSA: Would you say the Center for Manufacturing Innovation is your greatest success story? How did it all come about and how long of a process was it?
Howard: The Center for Manufacturing Innovation began with input our college president, Dr. Keith Miller, received from business and industry leaders starting around 2009 regarding a shortage of advanced manufacturing workers in our region. He in turn initiated discussions within the college and with members of the Greenville Tech Area Commission, Greenville County Council and the Greenville County Legislative Delegation. That led to $25 million in funding from the Greenville County for land and a building and $7 million in equipment funding from the State of South Carolina, which was combined with existing college funds and funds raised by the Greenville Tech Foundation to give us the state-of-the-art facility we opened in August. The facility is unique and will include partnerships with the School District of Greenville County and Clemson University. The campus will greatly expand our capacity to train the workforce needed by manufacturers and will give our citizens wonderful job opportunities.
I think the greatest success story for myself and everyone else at Greenville Technical College is the number of certificates and degrees we award to people who are seeing better lives through better education. Currently we have more than 12,000 students in our curriculum division and more than 15,000 students in our continuing education division, and every day it has been wonderful to be able to come to work and try to help these good, hard-working people achieve their goals.
Gardner: The Center for Manufacturing Innovation is a significant success for Greenville Technical College, worthy of the national recognition it is receiving. It provided significant opportunities to raise funds. However, I would consider the success in raising two gifts in seven figures to be my greatest success. Both gifts came from couples who have spent their entire working lives in Greenville County, accumulating significant wealth. Over time and with the assistance of a number of college faculty and staff, we were able to help each couple find meaningful ways to give back to their community with their gifts to the Greenville Tech Foundation. During my 13 years with the foundation, we have raised more than $24 million to assist the students and college.
GSA: What are your plans upon retirement?
Howard: Everyone assumes that upon retirement I’ll immediately travel to all sorts of destinations. Sure, I’ll do some of that, but why leave Greenville? This is a great place and I love it here! I have a lot of plans to include spending more time with friends and family, hiking, reading, working on Spanish, volunteering, consulting, getting better with all the technology in my life and doing some travel. I’m also prepared for surprises and new ideas – I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Gardner: Trips are planned to the Holy Land and London next year. I would like to hike and take photographs in all of the U. S. National Parks, as well as all of the major league baseball stadiums, the Smithsonian complex, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and New York City.
Reading: All four walls of my large study have full bookcases. Many of the books have not yet been opened.
Writing: Philip Roth has already beaten me to writing “The Great American Novel,” but I find creative writing to be a stimulating and rewarding experience. Who knows what will result?