“Status quo” isn’t in Don Tomas’ vocabulary.
“We figured Dr. Tomas would be an excellent leader but we didn’t realize how fast he would hit the ground running,” said Conrad Burrell, chairman of Southwestern Community College’s Board of Trustees.
When he assumed his duties as Southwestern’s new president on July 1, Tomas immediately plunged into a whirlwind of activity.
That’s just his style, according to the athletic Tomas, who earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education and his master’s in adapted physical education.
“I’m driven and I like to get things done,” said Tomas, who comes to Southwestern from Weatherford College in Weatherford, Texas, where he served as vice president of instruction.
“Whatever job I’m doing or whatever position I’ve held, I’ve always tried to improve the situation and leave it better than I found it,” said Tomas, who led a successful campaign at Weatherford College that expanded educational access and opportunities in Wise County. His leadership also helped convert 36 classrooms into smart classrooms, despite budget reductions and lowered state allocations.
Prior to Weatherford College Tomas served as associate dean of instructional services for the Southwest Texas Junior College- Del Rio. There he was instrumental in expanding the Del Rio campus from 1.5 acres to 13.5 acres and from 300 students to 1200 students.
“In my last two positions I rallied the community to help grow their local college and I see that as my role here, too. I understand Southwestern’s proud history and I honor that. It’s those proud standards that will move us positively and progressively into the future,” said the new president.
Born and raised in Iowa, Tomas’ educational background is anything but traditional-more like “eclectic,” he says. One who values diversity, he received his Ed.D in education /higher education administration from Grambling State University, a predominantly black university in Louisianna. He received his master’s in adapted physical education from Texas Woman’s University.
“Texas Woman’s University had one of the top programs in the nation for physical education for special populations and that’s what I was especially interested in,” said Tomas, who taught developmental physical education for special populations in preK-12.
“For a brief time I stepped away from education and went into business and purchasing,” he said. “That was a good experience for me to realize my real love was education. Then 24 years ago I took a job with the community college system and I never looked back. Education is who I am.”
When asked his strengths, Tomas, without hesitation, answered “communication skills.”
“Communication is not just about speaking,” he stressed, “but it also involves listening and understanding. I am here to listen to both sides and to weigh the issues.”
He’s data driven, too, he said. “I’m strong on gathering data. If someone asks me the why question I want to have the understanding and data to back it up. When people know that your reasoning is based on that, then it’s OK to agree or disagree-respectfully.”
He places strong emphasis on ethics and integrity and believes “in doing the right thing.” He wants people to see him as “genuine, real and consistent- there’s nothing synthetic about me.”
Tomas plans to be “accessible and engaged” in the college and in the community. “I’m here for the students, the college and the community. It’s a privilege to have this position and I’m here to serve. My presidency is not about me; it’s about us and what we can do together.”
This month he and his wife Allison celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary. When she completes the move from Texas to Western North Carolina, Southwestern will hold a reception introducing the couple to the community.