Longwood professor heads to New College Institute

June 23, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

The New College Institute (NCI) on Thursday welcomed to Henry County and Martinsville its first faculty-in-residence.

Dr. Gary T. Nelson, a professor of education at Longwood University, will head Longwood's baccalaureate teacher education program at the New College, classes for which will begin in January.

But Nelson -- who has taught at Longwood since 2002 and at several institutions in Georgia since the early 1980s -- will not wait until the new year to begin his work in the area.

He and his wife, Cathy, were in town Thursday to explore Henry County and Martinsville's cultural assets, scout out its recreational opportunities and search for a new home.

"From our standpoint, it's important to be here and to be part of this community," Nelson said of his and his wife's decision to move here from Farmville by mid-August. "If this (New College) is going to work -- and it will -- the (program) directors need to be visible in the community. It's not a 9-to-5 job. It's a seven-day-a-week job."

It is a job that Nelson said he is looking forward to. Not only will it bring him to the "big city" -- Farmville has a population of just 6,000, one Wal-Mart and no mall -- but it will give him the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a teacher education program from the ground up.

That task will begin in August, when Nelson will begin recruiting students for his program. He will start with the area residents who showed up at the information sessions NCI held at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) this spring.

To qualify for the Longwood program, students must have either completed two years of college or earned their associate degree in general studies.

"I want to have a nice, healthy, good-sized teacher program," said Nelson. "My goal is to get a good solid group going (in January)," he added. "It's going to build."

As Nelson's cohorts grow, so too will his program. Although Longwood initially will offer only elementary education licensure, Nelson hopes to be able to offer middle school endorsement in math and science in the near future.

"We all know there's a crying need for math teachers in the area," said NCI Executive Director Dr. Barry Dorsey.

Helping provide those instructors will be one part of Nelson's effort to design his program to meet the area's educational needs.

In addition to courting potential students, this fall Nelson also will be in local public schools, searching for instructors who might make good mentors for his future pupils and talking with administrators about continuing education programs for teachers NCI might offer through Longwood.

"Another goal for the fall is to build that two-way communication" between local school officials and the New College, said Nelson. "I'm here to serve the educational community in the area."

Moving here, said Dorsey, is the first step in reaching that goal. As the New College expands its offerings -- it will begin a seven-program pilot project in the fall and plans to announce another eight to 10 programs in 2007 -- Dorsey said he hopes more and more NCI faculty will follow Nelson's lead and put down roots in Henry County and Martinsville.

That, he said, will be a powerful message to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) as it evaluates the New College's future bid to become a stand-alone institution.

"In the long-term, it is going to be very important that we have a substantial number of faculty-in-residence that have been successful in their programs," said Dorsey.


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