By Philip Walzer
Corey McCray (Ph.D. '10) probably couldn't have a better resumé for his job as community college president.
McCray has been, among other titles, a Navy veteran, high school teacher, director of a regional career and technical center, executive vice president at Tidewater Community College and associate vice chancellor in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).
"Every one of those things provides me with the experience to relate to the typical community college student and the preparation to lead around workforce and academic initiatives," said McCray, who's been president of Paul D. Camp Community College since March 2021.
Even his past as a high school football and wrestling coach helps. "How to guide your campus through success is the same skill set you use on the football field or the wrestling mat."
Charles Sanders, chair of Paul D. Camp's local board, said: "Everybody I talk to on the staff is really excited about him. He's open to hearing new ideas. He's got a lot of energy, and he's not afraid to get out and talk to people."
Sanders said McCray has shortened the time between the first contact with an applicant and when he or she begins classes. McCray, he said, is also analyzing data to increase retention.
"I want to enroll more students," said McCray, 52. "But do you know what I want even more? Making sure those students are successful and complete their education on time."
McCray was twice a student at ODU. In 1996, he earned his teaching certification in the Troops to Teachers program. He returned in 2012 to pursue his doctorate in higher education leadership. "There were times I asked myself: Why am I putting myself through this? But I had the benefit of being supported by my family, the faculty and my classmates."
McCray singled out the chair of his dissertation committee, Karen Sanzo, a professor of educational foundations and leadership: "She wasn't there to make the landing soft. She was there to push me to go back and dig a little deeper, to challenge my assumptions."
Old Dominion named McCray a Darden Fellow this year. He also is the chair-elect of the CIVIC Leadership Institute and a member of ODU's Community College Leadership Advisory Board.
Paul D. Camp, based in Franklin, has 2,400 students and 120 employees. "Here's the thing that's unique about Camp: When I walk out of the office, I know the people in the community by name and occupation," McCray said. "It's such a hometown kind of environment."
Paul D. Camp is also one of the few community colleges with an athletics program. Expanding sports, he said, could help recruit more out-of-state and even international students.
He also plans to broaden allied health programs and tighten connections with public school systems and universities.
"I think I'm the luckiest president in the VCCS," he said. "The people I work with are passionate about what they do. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by a community of faculty, staff and students who are committed to success."
More profiles of alumni appear in the forthcoming issue of Monarch magazine.