Written By: Lisa Breslin
Dr. James Ball became the third president of Carroll Community College on July 1, 2014. He holds an Ed.D. in higher education administration from Virginia Polytechnic and State University and a certificate of advanced graduate studies in higher education administration from the same university. He has an M.Ed. in counseling and student services/psychology and a B.S. in Education with a minor in psychology from North Texas State University (now University of North Texas).
As a youth, was your answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” – a college president?
No, it was to be a musician. I wanted to play jazz in New Orleans or New York.
When did your aspirations to be a leader in higher education launch?
I launched my professional life wanting to counsel, to be a therapist. That goal led me to higher education, which got me started and led to other jobs.
Name two jobs within higher education that best prepared you for this role.
My role as a faculty member: I learned about serving student needs, what motivates them, and how to impact them as individuals who seek to improve themselves. I know what it is like to be a faculty member with a heavy teaching load and having responsibility to assure that students are learning what is necessary at various levels, be it within the discipline and preparation for succeeding at the next level, or on a broader scale… developing essential “knowledge application skills” such as effective written communication, information literacy, scientific and analytical reasoning, quantitative analysis, creativity, interpersonal and self-management skills. This experience helps me relate to faculty and helps me understand and respond to their professional needs.
My role as vice president at Carroll: Being responsible for the direction of thee academic and student affairs programs, and working closely with Dr. [Faye] Pappalardo were all invaluable. Working closely with her gave me the opportunity to learn from her as a masterful leader. Also it enabled me to create a great working relationship with my fellow VP’s and we are able to continue that esprit de corps with them as president. We supported the work of each area as though we too were responsible for each area, and that same level of teamwork continues today.
Two jobs outside higher education — even perhaps during your youth — that prepared you for this role?
I started a professional painting and home repair business when I was in college. I continued that business part time into my early days as a professional educator. That taught me that regardless of circumstances I have a skill I can use that will be of service to others (part of my personal mission) and taught me that I can rely on myself to make a living if necessary. I learned that you will always be in demand if you listen to customer needs, communicate with them, charge reasonable rates and always provide more than is expected. I try to carry that idea forward today.
Any chance that you find yourself thinking, “Thank goodness I took that class. I can handle this situation as a result”?
Yes, higher ed law, statistics, and research design. I use this knowledge every day. It also helped me work as an advisor to doctoral students enrolled in higher education leadership courses at Morgan State University.
Your history with Carroll Community College is rich. Briefly describe the college when you joined the community.
In 1999, when I entered the college, we were about half the size in terms of student, programs, facilities, budget and employees. It has been very exciting to be at Carroll. We have had some sort of building and development project going on every year until very recently, though we are still managing to do some renovation and redevelopment of our facilities. For example, we just renovated three rooms for science laboratories to support our physics and engineering program as well as our nursing and allied health program.
Briefly describe highlights of the college’s transformation and your role in some of those highlights.
We have focused on expanding our programs and offerings to business and industry. Programs like nursing, engineering and the like have continued to be a strong focus. We have also been heavily focused on developing facilities and expanding locations to support those programs. The Mt. Airy Center is our most recent effort.
Our online presence has grown considerably. Making sure we have quality offerings in online courses has been a very important endeavor. I served as chair of the board of directors for “MaylandOnline” (MOL) a consortium of colleges proffering quality in online learning opportunities.
We have also put a huge emphasis on student learning and success.
We provide the necessary programs that get students engaged in the learning program and involved on campus and off campus in service learning. Anything we can do to extend the learning environment into real world, beyond the classroom is motivational to students.
List two of the biggest challenges you have faced as an administrator.
Dealing with increasing regulation and compliance issues; mandates and regulations keep coming at higher education and add tremendously to our cost burden.
Debunking the myth that community colleges programs are less rigorous or demanding than those at four-year institutions. This could not be further from the truth.
List three adjectives that you think capture the qualities of an effective college president.
1. Visionary but able to develop shared vision
2. Effective communicator
3. Hire people who have demonstrated passion for their work, and trust in them
How would you describe your leadership style? How would your colleagues and the students describe your leadership style?
I continuously strive to: seek to continuously build shared vision with staff; reach goals balanced with creativity, patience, and persistence in handling various challenges and issues that can impede progress; help support and encourage others to find their passion and personal effectiveness; be willing to listen/relationship builder/team developer; communicate expectations and expect professionalism and total commitment; and celebrate milestones.
Accounts of your work in higher education note that you have “over thirty years of progressively responsible experience in the community college setting.” Briefly explain how being progressively responsible manifests itself in your role as a college president/leader.
I started in higher education as a full-time faculty member and a counselor advisor, and then I have progressed and learned through a host of other roles that wove through many departments, career development, faculty forum, curriculum development, grants, academic administration, to name just a few of the earliest roles.
Favorite way to unwind?
I love spending time with my family – my wife Marie of 42 years, my two daughters Jessica (30) (and her husband Matt) and Jillian (29), and my extended family – 4 siblings and spouses. I also enjoy travel, especially to Civil War sites. And I love music, especially when I’m playing with a band I’m with called Moon. We mostly play at parties. I play drums and guitar.
Effective leaders who have inspired you? Unlikely leaders who have inspired you?
George Washington – for his courage, knowledge, competence, determination, overcoming incredible odds; Dr. Pappalardo – for her ability to lead in a just and humane and even nurturing way; my brother, Phil, who has had a 35-year career with Grace Corporation, managed two chemical plants in a very tough business, and he was a master of participatory management.
Favorite authors or musicians?
Authors in my college days: C. Dickens, D. H. Lawrence Herman Hesse; recent years: Frank McCourt. Musician: Brahms, Bernstein, and my favorite rock blues musician currently is Gary Clark Jr.
One thing about you that very few people know?
If I had to do it all again, but the condition was to have a different career, it would be as a theoretical physicist. I love reading about quantum mechanics, particle accelerators, string theory, and supersymmetry theory or the “Theory of Everything,” particle accelerators, black holes and the like. The very little of it I am able to comprehend is absolutely fascinating.