Candidate for GCC head has Mississippi roots

Christopher Gilmer receives warm response at open interview; 4 to follow

  • Christopher Gilmer Contributed photo/GCC

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/23/2018 10:34:11 PM

GREENFIELD — Christopher Gilmer began his story with where he grew up, at his family home in rural Mississippi where they fed the chickens by tossing feed through the holes in the floor and then in preparation for the winter, “my grandmother built quilts to patch the holes.”

Gilmer said he grew up in “more generations of poverty than I can imagine.”

On that note, he explained how he came to be a first-generation college student to the dozen or so faculty and community members present for public input on the first of five finalists for the future president of Greenfield Community College, when Robert Pura steps aside at the end of the academic year.

“I never found it in my heart to look down on anyone,” Gilmer said. “My family taught me I wasn’t better than anybody but that I was just good as anybody.”

Gilmer, the executive director of Alcorn State University’s Vicksburg campus in Mississippi and Southwest Mississippi Center for Culture and Learning, received a warm response from the handful of faculty and administrators present for the open public session Monday afternoon.

A product of a community college, calling himself a “development education student,” Gilmer said he views education as a right, not a privilege. He said he knows some people have to work harder for it than others, but sees college as a good investment in one’s self.

Gilmer has worked at Alcorn, the nation’s oldest public land-grant Historically Black University, and Adams State University, a Hispanic-Serving Institution in Colorado. This line of work led him to founding the National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students. He brought a body-sized rendering of the organization’s constitution.

If he came to GCC, Gilmer said he hopes the college will want to be not only a part of this organization he founded, but a main institution nationally representing it — but only if it’s the wish of the college to be so.

“Why not become known as the community college who is an advocate for all students, nationally, in the same way you’re known for that locally?” Gilmer said.

When asked about his five-year plan for the college, Gilmer first said, “it would be arrogant of me as an outsider to impose” his views from one college straight onto GCC. Instead, he said he first will need to listen, both to text and the subtext.

“Right now, you know a lot more about GCC than I do and for a time you will,” Gilmer said. “You need someone who comes in with lots of ideas but not preconceived notions.”

He hopes to continue to build the college’s footing with Baby Boomers in the valley, hoping to help those who want to re-educate.

Gilmer also said it’s important, from what he’s seen in his work and the models he’s implemented, to create a strong network with the whole family when a student, particularly a first-generation college student, comes to school as a strong retention tool.

Working toward bringing in more money off of federal grants, or “soft money,” was something Gilmer said he has been good at in his previous work and something he sees himself being skilled at if he came to the college. His bio provided by GCC said he has led or served on teams that have secured $75 million in competitive grants for clients nationwide and has consulted for the U.S. Department of Education’s regional educational labs for many years.

Gilmer also said as president he should be able to bring in hefty donations and added, half-kiddingly with his big smile and easy-going personality: “If I was here for five years and had not brought in the largest donation in the history of the college, then I believe you should run me off.”

He sees teachers and faculty as typically overworked and stretched between teaching different generations, as a generational divide continues to grow. “I learned to text not because I wanted to text but because it was the only way to speak with my nieces,” he joked, but then added if he asks his staff to learn new technology, he will do so if he has the trainings available to offer.

When Gilmer went to community college, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to be. Maybe a pilot, a psychologist or a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet? At school, though, he said he found his passion, which has helped lead to a view of his approach to higher-education learning.

“My view of education is pretty radical. You’ll either identify with it or it’ll scare you away,” Gilmer said. “I think teaching people facts is important … but igniting a lifelong desire to learn” is the most important.

Gilmer explained himself as the kind of teacher who likes to sit on the desk and have a dialogue with his students.

“We want to teach the paramedics,” he said. “But we also want to teach them how to frame their own questions of their own lives and the universe.”

Other finalists

The finalists will hold an open public forum on campus from 4:15 to 5 p.m. on their scheduled date. Gilmer was the first of five finalists.

The remaining finalists and dates they will be on campus: Wed., April 25, Arlene Rodríguez; Friday, April 27, Yves Salomon-Fernandez; Monday, April 30, Julie White and Wed., May 2, Carla Oleska.

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

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