The Value of an Experienced Team

The Value of an Experienced Team

By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Every year, thousands of students walk through the doors at Southside Virginia Community College. Some arrive in person to stroll the hallways and enter classrooms. Others come through a digital portal to take advantage of distance learning options. I am pleased that we can offer them relevant and innovative programs to pursue diverse education and training goals.

I can’t do it alone. I rely on an excellent team of dedicated professionals who contribute to SVCC’s mission in various capacities. Many of them have been on the job for years. At an awards ceremony held last December, it was my privilege to recognize important milestones attained by long-serving faculty and staff.

One of the employees who earned recognition for 35 years of service was Melissa Back. She teaches in our Nursing, Allied Health, and Natural Sciences department. Ms. Back recalls, “Before returning to my hometown to raise my children, I had very little idea of the role community colleges play in profoundly changing the lives of their citizens. This is exponentially true for the role they play in rural communities.”

SVCC’s service area spans ten counties, which are among the most underserved and economically strained in the country. Ms. Back notes, “Throughout my tenure, I have witnessed innumerable instances of familial generational poverty reversed and literacy challenges met and overcome. These successes not only affect the individuals served but also impact the generations above and below. Children thrive if parents succeed; elders are supported when offspring are successful.”

Ms. Back quotes Horace Mann, education reformer of the early nineteenth century, who famously noted that “Education is the greatest equalizer” when it comes to overcoming poverty. Ms. Back adds, “It is a humbling experience to watch lives transformed by offering adults hope for sustainable futures.”

“This sounds profound and it is, but it is not done in isolation,” she says. “Without the amazing efforts of the team of professionals here at SVCC, the classroom experience would not be possible.  Foundation members, Administrators, Support Staff, Buildings and Grounds members each play a role. Behind every certificate, license, degree, and course completion, countless individuals have played a role in backing that success.”

Roger Wray, Head of Buildings and Grounds for the Christanna Campus, was another team member honored for 35 years of service. Mr. Wray started his own education journey by learning trades at SVCC and later joined the B&G staff. He also served as a teacher and mentor to students enrolled in emergency response programs. Mr. Wray proudly boasts that his children are SVCC alumni and that two of his grandchildren will join their ranks this spring.

Mr. Wray notes that technology updates and improved communication have enhanced building management tasks. He says, “My position helps make sure that our college is in the best possible shape for the health, safety, security, and well-being of students and employees who come to SVCC.”

Many others were recognized for employment milestones. They included faculty and staff members who promote and track student success. Each of these long-term employees help generate the caring, family-oriented culture that makes SVCC a premier place to work and learn. They are the cornerstone upon which our mission and vision are built.

Our great team ensures that SVCC remains an open-door institution where everyone is welcome. For more information, visit

Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at

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