Benedict administrator finalist for Lowcountry tech post

Benedict College's Jabari Simama is among the top president finalists at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort County.

Three finalists were announced Monday to replace outgoing president Anne McNutt.

Simama now serves as executive assistant to the president and vice president of community development and external relations at Benedict College in Columbia.

He focuses on fundraising, political relations, budget and planning, communication and workforce development initiatives. Simama earned a doctorate and master's from Emory University in Atlanta.

Simama also has Beaufort County ties. He said he has owned a home there since 1990.

"I am very much in love with the area and the people who live here, and I think the college has an excellent opportunity ensuring that economic growth and development will continue," he said.

If he won the job, Simama said he would focus on working with the school system to stop its yearly hemorrhage of dropouts and create programs dedicated to workforce skills matching the regional market. He also said the announcement of a port on the Savannah River in Jasper County, which may open within the next decade, would be of particular interest to the college.

The other candidates are:

•Michael Elam, vice president for student development at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Fla. He is the chief student affairs officer and responsible for 10 percent of the college's budget. Elam earned a doctorate in higher education leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Miami Beach, Fla.

Elam said he is a good fit in Beaufort because of its similarities to Daytona Beach: Both are coastal, resort communities. He said he was interested in Beaufort's rich culture, which he said he knew from visiting here and reading the novels of Pat Conroy, Beaufort's famous author.

"I've been preparing myself for a leadership role just like the one there at TCL," he said. "President McNutt has done a wonderful job. I see it like a race. It's time for her to pass the baton off to me so I can take the next leg and move the institution a little higher."

•Thomas Lietzel, vice president at Pfeiffer University in Charlotte. He works at the school's Charlotte campus, providing service to students and staff in the schools of graduate and adult studies. He oversees enrollment management's efforts for 300 undergraduates students and 1,200 graduate students; a revenue budget of $11 million; operational and capital budgets of $3.7 million; a marketing budget of $500,000 and fundraising efforts. Lietzel earned a doctorate with an emphasis in community college administration at Virginia Tech University.

"We're going to have to do a lot of assessment of things," Lietzel said Monday of TCL. "Everyone I spoke to had a very high regard for the institution."

He said he spent some time in Beaufort over the Fourth of July holiday.

"It's the opportunity to build change through workforce development, and that directly impacts the economic vitality of the four-county service region," he said.

The finalists were selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants. Kandy Peacock, chief human resource administrator for the state technical college system, said that on average presidential vacancies attract about 55 candidates.

McNutt announced her retirement in April after 21 years at the college and plans to remain president until a replacement is hired. The TCL Commission's interviews with the candidates will begin Wednesday and run through July 25. Candidates will meet with college officials, faculty, staff and the commission members. A final selection will be made at the end of the month.

-- The Beaufort Gazette