As he retires from Livingstone College, Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins leaves a long list of accomplishments
Jenkins served 16 years, second longest tenured president in school history
SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - He says he’s an example of God using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, the president of Livingstone College in Salisbury, is retiring this month, but not without his mark on the historic HBCU.
Ask Dr. Jenkins to tell you about his first paying job, and you’re likely to get a chuckle.
“Farm work, picking cotton, cropping tobacco, as a teenager,” Dr. Jenkins said.
Working in those fields in Selma, North Carolina, taught him a lesson that resonates today.
“I learned that during the course of my being in the fields out there working that it was something I did not want to do for the rest of my life,” Dr. Jenkins added. “I went to Elizabeth City State University, majored in biology, minored in chemistry, but was very excited about the whole notion of getting a college education.”
His pursuit of education did lead to college, graduate school. Prior to accepting the position at Livingstone in 2006, Jenkins served as president of Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla, where a gymnasium there bears his name. Before that, he made history by becoming the first alumnus of Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) to serve as chancellor, after earning both his master’s and doctorate degrees in biology from Purdue University. A science building at ECSU is named in his honor. He eventually came to Salisbury in 2006 to become the 12th President of Livingstone College. It was a difficult time in the history of the school, according to Board members.
“Livingstone College was at its lowest ebb when we began our search for a new president in 2006,” said Bishop George W.C. Walker, former chairman of the Board of Trustees. “Dr. Jenkins became the best candidate in the search process and ultimately the president. He provided the greatest tenure of a president in the history of the college. Dr. Jenkins phenomenally lifted the college to extraordinary heights. Without question, Livingstone College is in a much better place because of his presidency.”
Dr. Jenkins is comfortable in the office, or on the campus helping to rally students. When the college sponsored a health fair, he was first in line. With retirement now just days away, there’s talk of his impact over the last 16 years. Dr. Jenkins points to the Summer Bridge Program that helps underachieving high school students to reach their potential through a college education.
The college defines the Bridge Program as being “designed to assist high school graduates who underachieved during their high school careers, but who still may have the capabilities and drive to excel academically, socially, and spiritually if given the proper guidance and support. The purpose of the Bridge Program is to increase the persistence, retention and graduation rates of provisionally admitted students through an intense six-week summer experience prior to their fall enrollment followed by an ongoing academic year program throughout their matriculation.”
“We have examples of students who came through that program and graduated in three years, we’ve had students who have same through that program and gone on to professional schools, we’ve had examples of students who have gone to medical school through the bridge program,” Dr. Jenkins says.
The college says that the shift during the academic year is to focus on the retention and persistence of these students. Bridge students are divided into four cohorts and are tracked through weekly meetings, personal contacts, early-alerts from professors to Bridge staff, and classroom visits for their first two years of matriculation. All Bridge students are encouraged to maintain satisfactory academic progress to be considered successful Bridge attendees.
Dr. Jenkins and Livingstone have been praised for their response to the COVID19 pandemic. The school went in early with protocols and requirements for testing and vaccines.
“It was a very challenging operation,” Jenkins said, “because we recognized that people were dying from the pandemic, at that time it was unclear what protocols you should do to try to mitigate the disease.”
The death of one student, Jamesha Waddell, from COVID, brought wide support, and the school was able to avoid the type of outbreaks many other institutions faced.
The Livingstone College website also lists many of the achievements that came about during the tenure of Dr. Jenkins:
During his tenure, Livingstone has undergone significant progress. At his hiring, Jenkins challenged the Board of Trustees to use his experiences to change the college approach to educating students often troubled by socio-economic difficulties, thus creating the Holistic College model.
Under Jenkins’ leadership, the campus saw its first major construction in more than 40 years in that of Honors Hall, apartment-style units for new students with high grade-point averages.
He is credited with saving the college from closure from its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Today, the college boasts reaffirmation of accreditation for the next 10 years without a single recommendation.
“Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins became president during a very critical time in the college’s history. Yet, he accepted the position with the attitude that he would be on a mission – a mission to transform the college’s deficits to a college designed and dedicated to overcome the odds and produce great leaders,” Board Chairman Kenneth Monroe said. “His Christian principles and values restored hope and faith in the college administration, mission and values. He surrounded himself with gifted and loyal persons who connected with his vision to defy the odds. Their efforts brought back stability and integrity to the college.”
Jenkins also raised the net asset value of the college by $15 million; acquired a former Holiday Inn to establish the hospitality management and culinary arts program; and reactivated the college’s 40 acres of land to grow food and supply culinary arts.
College enrollment grew 35 percent to 1,400 students, the largest in school history (pre-COVID-19), resulting in Livingstone purchasing College Park Apartments, a four-building complex that houses 100 students.
Dr. Jenkins said on Tuesday that he has agreed to stay on the job while a nationwide search takes place to find the next President. He said that the thought of retirement has him somewhat melancholy. He said he looks forward to spending more time with family and traveling, but knows he will miss the career that he has devoted so much of life to for so many years.
“Education is the surest vehicle for upward mobility in the world,” Dr. Jenkins said. “I want to able to make sure that I am using the gifts that God has given me to be help those who might be loss of might fear that they do not have the opportunity. God uses ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things, and I think I’m an example of that.”
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