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Bless the heart of the county commissioners, I think we all will come knocking on your doors when we receive our new...

Duplin Connection key for new PCC president

Bob Garner
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Bob Garner

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

It should come as no surprise that Pitt Community College found its new president, Lawrence Rouse, just 63 miles down the road in Kenansville.

Rouse is a native of Sumpter, South Carolina, but he spent 13 years in Duplin County as president and CEO of James Sprunt Community College.

That’s the same institution into which the man generally recognized as “father of the state’s community college system,” put his energies as a 15-year trustee.

Dallas Herring, a Duplin County native, led the state’s school board for two decades. Asked by Gov. Luther Hodges in 1957, he created a system of industrial schools that would grow into the N.C. Community College System.

Herring’s home and library in Rose Hill was long a destination for education leaders who made the trek to consult with him. His background was in economics, not education, and he spent much of his career overseeing a family business, but he was nevertheless an education visionary.

Ever wonder why PCC’s sports mascot is a bulldog? It’s because Gov. Jim Hunt once said of Herring, “He was a bulldog when it came to providing for the schools.”

“I got to spend time on Dallas Herring’s back porch after his retirement from our board,” said Rouse. “I found out he was one of the smartest men I ever met. His words ring true 50 years after he said them.”

Herring famously said the mission of the state’s community college system is to take people from where they are to as far as they can go — in other words, as far as they can see.

Another way of putting it is that altitude determines attitude. It’s no coincidence that Rouse prepared an interview presentation on that very subject — which might be called “introductory horizon perception” — as one of 100 candidates for the PCC job.

Rouse told me, “The horizon you can see from the surface is only about three miles … at least until you get a little altitude and see more clearly how far the horizons can extend. We have to help students see farther.”

But he warned that students’ vision can be limited by barriers that can “end a career before it even starts.” He was speaking of what he called heads-down involvement with smart phones that often replace real communication with texting and social media posting.

“Dr. Herring was a communicator, and he would know that communication is likely to become a lost art if we don’t solve that conundrum,” he said.

But at the same time, Rouse is also trying to become more agile regarding the whole issue of “personal branding” through social media. “I went to a workshop just last week on how images posted on Snapchat, Instagram and the like can help students establish a stronger business. It’s the more positive side of social media posting, but I don’t even fully understand yet what some of the terms mean. Life is one step after another, and I’ll come along.”

Rouse views himself as an engaging leader, and he’s spent enough time as a dean of students at community and technical colleges in South and North Carolina to have sharpened a personal style for “rubbing elbows” with students, especially the ones age 25-and-under.

“I like to get into the cafeteria or out on campus and make personal connections,” he said. I’ll ask, ‘Whatcha doin’ or ‘Whatcha havin’ for lunch’ just as a way to strike up conversations. Students are always happy to tell you the good things, and if you press them, they’ll even tell you the problems they may he having with enrollment or transportation or any one of dozens of things.”

Rouse, 62, and his wife Janie have a newly-married son, Lee, who’s an engineer in the Tidewater Virginia ship-building industry, and a daughter, Whitney, who’s single and lives in Greensboro.

“When they were younger, they knew everything, but now they ask, ‘Dad, what about this or that?’ My daughter asks my wife about recipes or how to keep house plants healthy.”

If PCC students are still engaging with him like that, I predict Lawrence Rouse will have a good, long tenure in Pitt County.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com.

Meet Lawrence Rouse from Bob Garner on Vimeo.

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