Teresa Rhea, long-time administrator, to retire Sept. 1
Gadsden, Ala. – For almost four decades, Dr. Teresa Rhea has embarked on an unlikely journey that led to a career in secondary and post-secondary education. That journey slows down on Sept. 1 when the dean of Enrollment and Retention retires from Gadsden State Community College.
“I have worked in education for 37 years, and I’m looking forward to a change in focus,” she said. “I plan to continue to serve the College and the community but in other capacities.”
In 1982, Rhea graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from the University of Alabama. She later married William Rhea, now a retired Etowah County circuit court judge, and moved to Gadsden.
“I quickly discovered that there really wasn’t a demand for research microbiologist in the area, so I had to find another vocation,” she said. “As a fortunate result, I began teaching biology and computer science at Southside High School and discovered my true calling.”
Through the years, she earned a Master of Arts in Instructional Leadership, a Master of Arts in Counseling Endorsement and the Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration, all from UA. After working for 17 years as a teacher and counselor at SHS, she joined the staff at Gadsden State in 2000.
During her 20-year career in higher education, Rhea served as the College’s registrar, director of Admissions, associate dean of Student Services and assistant to the president for Planning, Research and Effectiveness. She was promoted to her current position in 2016. As the dean of Enrollment and Retention, she provides direction for student recruitment and retention activities as well as services to the students and the community. Her office coordinates the activities of Admissions, Financial Aid, Testing, Advisement Resource Center, ACE Institute, Career Services, Student Services, Student Engagement and all grant activities related to recruitment and retention. She also supervises Gadsden State’s Valley Street Campus and campus directors in Cherokee and Calhoun counties.
“I am fortunate to have a strong team in place that has assisted me in our accomplishments and achievements throughout my tenure at Gadsden State,” Rhea said. “I know they will continue innovating, inspiring others and leading. I very much look forward to celebrating their future successes.”
It’s the teamwork at Gadsden State that has led to some of Rhea’s greatest achievements as a College administrator, including the initiation of the very first online registration system in the Alabama Community College System in 2002 as well as her work in institutional effectiveness and accreditation.
“Our team developed a cycle for the assessment of programs to demonstrate accreditation compliance for Gadsden State,” she said. “This innovation resulted in accreditation reviews with no recommendations or follow-up from our accrediting organization.”
Rhea also reflected on the establishment of Student Engagement Centers on three campuses that co-locate all services to facilitate student success in a central location.
“Our centers include tutoring, advisement, technical resources related to instruction and student support services in on location,” she said.
The One Stop Center, located on the East Broad Campus, opened in 2015. Rhea and her team started working on the project a decade earlier.
“The concept of the One Stop Center was to locate all the services a student or prospective student would need prior to taking their seat in class in one easy-to-access location,” she said.
The initiative resulted in the redesign and remodel of an existing building into a state-of-the-art facility housing Admissions, Financial Aid, Enrollment Services, the Testing Center, the Business Office and the Gadsden State Bookstore in addition to a multipurpose meeting room.
With the great achievements came swift changes. Rhea said the biggest change she has witnessed in her career in education is the advancement of technology.
“Gadsden State has been a part of a technological revolution that I believe has improved not only the delivery of instruction but how instructors teach and how students learn,” she said. “I think we are on the cutting edge of a wave that is going to make higher education in both academic transfer and career technical education more accessible to the community.”
She said technology reduces the need for travel time and expense and permits students to learn in ways that work best for them.
“The end result is a better-prepared workforce, a chance to promote economic development in our area and an overall improvement in access to higher education for members of our community,” she said.
Rhea has witnessed a change in educational pathways to include more dual enrollment opportunities for high school students. Gadsden State’s dual enrollment program, known as ACE (Advanced College Enrollment) Institute, has continued to grow over the last five years.
“I and my team established the ACE Institute as a means to provide high school students in our community with a convenient and cost-effective way to earn collegiate credits while still in high school,” she said. “This program serves as a bridge between high school and college and has become more successful every year.”
After the years of working to improve educational opportunities for students across the area, Rhea is ready to settle down and enjoy retirement.
“I plan to spend a lot of time with our children, Laney and Hal, as well as our grandchildren, Margaret and Joseph, and my extended family,” she said. “I plan to indulge my interest in writing, and I hope that Bill and I have the opportunity for some travel. I would also love to continue serving my community in other ways.”
In the end, Rhea looks back on her illustrious career with fondness.
“I feel fortunate beyond words and truly blessed to have had the opportunity to be a small part of the lives of so many students and families,” she said.