“I’m going to miss watching students when they come in, and their lights come on. I say ‘lights’ because there are a lot of lights that come on for them, and then they go out and find their passion. Isn’t that wonderful as a human being when you find something that you’re really passionate about?” –Tina Anderson
Tina Anderson has traded in her hectic schedule as president of Wiregrass Georgia Technical College for a more relaxed, unscheduled life of retirement.
Before her tenure as president concluded on April 29, she wrote the song “Giving Work a Good Name” to pay honor to technical workers that keep America’s economy moving. Serving as Wiregrass Tech’s unofficial anthem, the chorus sums it up:
“We are the new collar, we’re on the frontline;
Bringing home the big dollars, putting in our time;
We’re small-town scholars giving work a good name; that’s our claim to fame.”
The lyrics not only represent the tireless efforts of the technical workforce but are also a glimpse into Anderson’s professional drive to give “work a good name.”
“Our mission is workforce development,” says Anderson, who served as president of Wiregrass for eight years. “Every day, we get up and come to work with the thoughts: How are we training people? How are we educating students to go into businesses and fulfill the jobs that they need?”
Anderson’s career in technical education began in 1995 as director of the Career Resource Center at Middle Georgia College. She then moved quickly up the ranks serving as vice president of student services and vice president of instruction. In 2003, she was named president at Moultrie Technical College.
In 2007, she served as interim president of Valdosta Technical College [later Wiregrass Georgia Technical College]. In 2008, she became acting assistant commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), Office Technical Education.
She came back to Wiregrass Tech as president in 2013 and immediately began knocking on the doors of local businesses. “It’s important that we listen to our industry leaders,” she says. “Our job is to drill down and find out what skill sets they need.”
As part of her “Talks with Tina,” where she met directly with industry and business leaders, Anderson always asked, “What are we not doing that you need us to start?”
These conversations were the starting point. “When they talk about specific skill-sets needed in workers, that’s a gift,” she says, “It allows our team to go back and start fulfilling those needs.”
Wiregrass Tech students are “skilled and ready” to enter the workforce, and Anderson is proud of the college’s nearly 99 percent job placement rate. “We have a high job placement rate, and one of the reasons is we only teach skills that are relevant to businesses and industries in our service region.”
From meeting with program advisory committees to million-dollar donors, Anderson has fostered relationships with top business and industry leaders to ensure students have access to the latest trends in the industry.
When asked about her favorite part of being president, Anderson says, “Without a doubt, it’s the students.”
She’s been known to give students a “pep talk” just before national testing or stopping by the Cosmetology lab for a quick haircut, showing students she trusts their skills.
Her favorite day is commencement, where she often stops the flow of graduates coming across the stage and celebrates with each individually.
Giving a thumbs up and a bright smile, Anderson helps students search for their family members and friends in the audience as they snap a photo. Her goal is to make each graduate feel as if they are the center of attention.
“I’m going to miss watching students when they come in, and their lights come on,” she says. “I say ‘lights’ because there are a lot of lights that come on for them, and then they go out and find their passion. Isn’t that wonderful as a human being when you find something that you’re really passionate about?”
More than technical knowledge, Anderson says Wiregrass students are equipped with critical thinking skills and work ethics.
“Our students actually receive a grade in work ethics,” she says. “We also have a warranty program for our students.”
Along with all TCSG institutions, Wiregrass Tech guarantees graduates meet curriculum standards that have been developed from direct involvement with business and industry leaders.
If a TCSG graduate is deficient in one or more competencies, the technical college will retrain the employee at no instructional cost to the employee or the employer.
Under Anderson’s leadership, Wiregrass Tech reached many achievements, including having its Associate of Science in Nursing (RN) program named the No. 1 program in Georgia. The ranking is based on National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) pass rates.
Another source of pride is Wiregrass Tech’s SkillsUSA team, which has received multiple state and national awards, including being one of the top chapters in the nation two years in a row.
Building one of the state’s top dual enrollment programs is another highlight during Anderson’s tenure. Wiregrass Tech was the first college in Georgia to receive accreditation by the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment.
In 2019, Wiregrass Tech had Georgia’s highest dual enrollment rate.
Anderson says dual enrollment provides a “taste of college life” while students continue to have a high school support system.
The college has also experienced growth in overall graduation and retention rates leading to more skilled and prepared graduates entering the workforce.
More than earning a paycheck, Wiregrass Tech’s apprenticeship program is helping students build successful careers.
“We were one of the first schools to start apprenticeship programs,” Anderson says. “Students were leaving school before they graduated, and businesses needed workers.”
The apprenticeship program connects businesses in dire need of trained workers with Wiregrass students.
Since 2015, Wiregrass Tech has been named a Military Friendly and Best for Vets College. The college was also selected as a charter institute for the Excellence in Academic Advising by National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) and Gardner Institute. With a direct presence at Moody Air Force Base, Wiregrass Tech’s base testing center was recognized as a Top Five Testing Center by the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) for 2019 and top 25 in 2012 and 2013.
Expanding Wiregrass Tech’s outreach, Anderson helped bridge partnerships with the Georgia Department of Correction and Core Civic to provide college programs to prisoners. This partnership has helped 513 students graduate with technical certificates of credits since the fiscal year 2017.
During Anderson’s eight years as Wiregrass Tech president, she has awarded more than 18,000 non-credit certificates and has the highest number of apprenticeships in the TCSG.
She diligently worked with school and community leaders to construct college career academies in Coffee and Ben Hill counties. Wiregrass also built a health science building at the Coffee County campus. A second health science building at the Valdosta campus is scheduled for completion by spring 2022 and is named in honor of donors Dr. Ed and Rhonda Mark. The 96,100-square-foot facility will feature high-tech classrooms and lab space.
“Wiregrass can have students from anywhere in the world, but within these counties, we are responsible for recruiting, providing adult education, and economic development.” –Tina Anderson
An Economic Driver
Wiregrass Tech is a significant economic engine representing $159.6 million annual economic impact within its 11-county service region, including Atkinson, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, and Wilcox.
“Wiregrass can have students from anywhere in the world,” she says, “but within these counties, we are responsible for recruiting, providing adult education, and economic development.”
Anderson was a 2005 graduate of Leadership Georgia and a graduate of Leadership Warner Robins. In 2004, she was named a Georgia Trend Magazine “Top 40 Under 40” list of honorees and in 2018 was named to South Georgia Business + Culture Magazine’s Team South Georgia.
An active community volunteer, Anderson has served on numerous boards, including Leadership Georgia, Moultrie YMCA, Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce, Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce, the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, and the Georgia Southwestern State University School of Business Advisory Council.
While retirement is bittersweet, Anderson is looking forward to motorcycle rides with her husband, Tony, and spending time with the couple’s beloved dachshunds, Buddy Wilson and Harley Davidson, yet she will miss the Wiregrass family.
“I don’t throw the word ‘family’ around, but this is my Wiregrass family,” she says. “When you work with people every day, you hurt when they hurt and laugh when they laugh. That’s the way I feel about the team at Wiregrass.”