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Dr. Mark Kinlaw, president of Rockingham Community College, receives 2021 I.E. Ready Distinguished Leader Award

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Dr. Mark Kinlaw, president of Rockingham Community College, received the I.E. Ready Distinguished Leader Award during the Dallas Herring Lecture on Nov. 16. The award honors an N.C. State University graduate for exceptional leadership in the community college system.

Kinlaw has dedicated much of his career to the North Carolina Community College System. Before becoming president of Rockingham Community College in 2015, Kinlaw worked at Robeson Community College for 27 years. He served as a faculty member, ran a Title III grant, and eventually became the vice president of academic and student services at Robeson.

EdNC recently sat down with Kinlaw to discuss his career and reaction to winning the I.E. Ready Award. Kinlaw, who has worked in the community college system for almost 33 years, said he was very surprised and honored when he received the call about the award. 

“The system has meant a lot to me over the years. There have been so many good people that have worked in the system and there are a lot of good people in the system now that could have been recognized,” Kinlaw said. “To be chosen and then to see some of the past people that have been chosen … To be in that group is pretty special.”

Dr. Audrey J. Jaeger (left) presenting the I.E. Ready Award to Dr. Mark Kinlaw. Emily Thomas/EducationNC

During his presidency at Rockingham, Kinlaw has focused on the appearance and efficiency of its building and grounds. Seven buildings have already been renovated. One of those buildings is a simulated hospital, which has helped increase enrollment in the college’s health science programs. And soon, the college will break ground on a new center for Workforce Development.

The new building, which will help with workforce development initiatives, is a result of Kinlaw’s efforts to get a quarter-cent sales tax passed in Rockingham County. All revenues from the tax go exclusively to Rockingham Community College.

When asked about his contributions to the system, Kinlaw was quick to point out that it is the work he has been involved in, not the work he has done. 

“I never want to say it’s work that I’ve done, it’s just work I’ve been involved in all these years,” he said.

It’s a statement that, in part, sums up Kinlaw’s leadership style — lead by listening and participating. 

Dr. Mark Kinlaw at the Dallas Herring Lecture. Emily Thomas/EducationNC

“I learned pretty quickly that you have to listen a lot …You have to hire the best people that you possibly can hire, and then you let them do their jobs and you listen to them,” Kinlaw said. “I think I’m participatory in leadership style, collaborative … If you’ve got a diversified campus … and you listen to those folks, and we allow them to participate in making those decisions, you’re much more likely to make a good decision when it’s all said and done.”

And listening has been even more important at a time when students are struggling to deal with the pandemic. 

“I think [the pandemic] has really reemphasized how important it is to have your pulse on what’s happening to your students. You’ve got to be in tune with what is happening with your students. That’s one of the lessons that I think we’ve been taught.”

Dr. Mark Kinlaw, president of Rockingham Community College

At the end of the day, Kinlaw says students are at the heart and soul of what community colleges do. And to better serve students, Kinlaw says it has been important to remember that the team concept is critical.

“Everybody has a role. Everybody has something important to do,” Kinlaw said.

Before we parted ways, Kinlaw reflected on his time at N.C. State in the community college program. He initially said no program could ever prepare you for leading an institution during a pandemic. But then he said, well, maybe it did. 

“It taught us a lot of things. You’ve got to be flexible … You’ve got to be continuously trying to get better and understand that you are trying to serve.”

– Dr. Mark Kinlaw, president of Rockingham Community College
Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is the Director of Postsecondary Attainment for EducationNC.