Ronald Rhames graduated from Midlands Technical College in 1978 after a job at McDonald’s sparked his interest in business.
Four decades later, the Keenan High School graduate will lead his alma mater.
Midlands Tech commissioners Wednesday chose Rhames, the school’s senior vice president, to succeed Sonny White as president of the two-year college.
Rhames was selected over two finalists who led schools outside Columbia: Anthony Kinkel, president of Wichita (Kan.) Area Technical College; and Walt Tobin, president of Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
“There’s a promise we make to our students at (Midlands Tech): ‘You can get anywhere from here,’” said Mack Jackson, chairman of the Midlands Technical College Commission. “To deliver on that promise requires passion, diligence and imagination. Our community saw those traits in Ron and knew that he was the right person to serve as president.”
Rhames will be Midlands Tech’s sixth president. He is the first African American and first graduate to lead the 40-year-old school.
“I have a lot of roots in the college,” the 60-year-old Columbia native said. “And we have opportunities to move to greater heights.”
After leaving high school, Rhames wanted to become an artist. Instead, he became a manager at McDonald’s. “I needed to focus on a career,” he said.
That realization led Rhames to get an associate’s degree in business management from Midlands Tech. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Benedict College, a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University and a doctorate in business administration from Nova Southeastern University.
Rhames was a branch manager and loan officer at Bankers Trust of South Carolina and vice president of fiscal affairs at Claflin University before coming to Midlands Tech. He has spent the last eight years as the school’s second-ranking leader, making $189,000. His salary in his new post has not yet been set.
Rhames gives Midlands Tech a national profile as board chairman of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, a 2,500-member organization of higher education finance leaders.
Midlands Tech is the third largest of South Carolina’s 16 technical colleges with about 12,000 students on six campuses, according to state data. But, in the past decade, its enrollment has grown by only 8.6 percent, fourth-slowest among the state’s technical schools.
Rhames said he would work on developing more advanced manufacturing programs to meet business needs.
Rhames credited White for his encouragement and recognition of the need to work with the business community.
White said Rhames is very good at collaboration and “knows where we need to take the college next.”
“The best candidate turned out to be someone from home,” White added.