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Dr. Gene Couch, Jr. President of VHCC

Clinch Valley Times of St. Paul, Virginia

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Dr. Gene C. Couch, Jr., a native of Southwest Virginia who returned to the region after a distinguished 29-year career with the North Carolina Community College System, was installed Friday as the sixth president of Virginia Highlands Community College.

The formal ceremony began with a bagpipe processional including about two dozen delegates from visiting colleges and uni-versities, VHCC faculty members, and college board members. The celebration marked a first for the Commonwealth, said Dr. Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia's Community Colleges, noting that Dr. Couch is the first Virginia community college graduate to become a Virginia community college president.

"What we found in Gene is a seasoned community college leader; someone who understands our students, especially because he was one of them; and someone who loves this region and is dedicated to its success," Dr. DuBois said.

Dr. Couch was born in Abingon and grew up on a farm in Castlewood. Following his graduation from Southwest Virginia Community College in 1982, he earned a bachelors degree in Allied Health from North Carolina's Mars Hill College. He later earned a master's degree and an education specialist degree in Education

Administration — Two Year College from Western Carolina University and a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from East Tennessee State University.

His career took him to Sylva, North Carolina, where he spent 26 years in various teaching and leadership positions at Southwestern Community College. In 2011, he joined Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina, and served as Executive Vice President there until he accepted the presidency at VHCC last year.

During his tenure at VHCC, Dr. Couch already has spearheaded several initiatives to promote student success, overseen numerous campus renovations, and added a new welding program and state-, of-the-art welding lab to support instruction. He has also forged a number of partnerships, joining Wytheville Community College in opening the Summit Center for Higher Education in Marion and signing reverse transfer agreements with both King University and Emory & Henry College. And, Dr. DuBois said, his creation of a Community Ambassadors Program is especially noteworthy because it "continues our tradition of bringing the college to the community."

Family and friends, college officials, community leaders and three former VHCC presidents — Dr.

Donald Puyear (1969 — 1973), Dr. F. David Wilkin (1995-2010), and Dr. Ron Proffitt (2010-2014) — attended Friday's ceremony. A number of professional associates provided congratulations via video before Dr. Couch was presented with the presidential medallion and gavel that are official symbols of the office. Chancellor DuBois also gave him a blank journal, explaining that it is "a reminder that the success story of your time as the president of this community college remains unwritten and without limits. Working with your team, working with your community, that story will take form and grow the way you collectively see it and the way you lead it."

Dr. Couch accepted the challenge, thanking those who have supported him throughout his career and promising that "our best days are ahead!"

"It is an honor to be the president of Virginia

Highlands Community College, and this inauguration marks a point in our history and provides, the opportunity for a college-wide celebration for our important work," he said. "Virginia Highlands has served the region with distinction for over 46 years. While we respect and honor our past, we will also look at a future that is full of possibilities. To paraphrase a John Quincy Adams quote on leadership, as the president of Virginia Highlands

Community College, I hope that my actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more."

Dr. Couch and his wife, Judy, live in Abingdon and have two sons. Jarrod is a first-year medical student at Lincoln Memorial University and Jordan is a sophomore at Emory & Henry College.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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