Lord Fairfax Community College President Cheryl Thompson-Stacy walked down the main hall of the renovated Fairfax Hall.
Some people see the newness of the hall, the fresh looking white paint, windows and additional rooms.
Thompson-Stacy sees the students.
“We have good kids. They work hard and are dedicated,” she said.
She thinks in terms of changing their lives, Thompson-Stacy said as students, sitting on couches and comfortable chairs, typed away at computer keyboards, most with coffee by their side. It is finals’ week.
Thompson-Stacy’s tenure as Lord Fairfax Community College president began in January 2009. She will officially retire Feb. 1, but with accumulated time she packed up her office and left a few days ago.
Administrators and faculty at Lord Fairfax Community College during the six years Thompson-Stacy has been at the helm praise her for how she has helped changed the lives of tens of thousands of students.
This year’s enrollment at all four campuses of the community college was about 9,400, increasing every year from the 6,500 enrollment when she started. The school had three campuses then. Lord Fairfax has campuses in Middletown and Warrenton, a center in Luray and the newest site in Vint Hill.
Thompson-Stacy made a lasting mark on the school, according to a board member.
“When I think of her I think of a visionary, a strong leader who has built an outstanding team at Lord Fairfax Community College,” said Fran Jeffries, chair of the Lord Fairfax Community College Board.
Jeffries worked along with Thompson-Stacy almost her entire tenure.
Thompson-Stacy and the team she put in place have put the community college on the map with its expanded offerings, its renovations, new buildings and new campus, Jeffries said.
“It has become a matter of pride,” Jeffries said. “I am going to miss her.”
Thompson-Stacy stopped by the small cafe where Deb Coulson was working.
“Deb has been working here a long time. She is also a yoga master,” Thompson-Stacy said by way of an introduction.
Thompson-Stacy stopped often to say hello, making small talk with this faculty member or staff member. They often called her “Dr. C.”
Massive renovations, adding a campus, increasing enrollment, she has taken it all in stride.
“I don’t get stressed. We have good people,” Thompson-Stacy said.
Lord Fairfax Community College has been designated one of the nation’s great colleges to work for by The Chronicle for Higher Education.
“People like to work here. I like to think the president has a role in that,” she said.
The school conducted a survey of its students and found 98 percent of them would recommend attending Lord Fairfax Community College to friends and family, she said proudly.
Thompson-Stacy walked a lot of hallways during her career.
Her first job was in 1982 as the director of Student Services at the Geauga campus of Kent State University.
“Working at a small place like that you pretty much have to do everything,” Thompson-Stacy said. “I credit that job for giving me the breadth of knowledge I used in my career.”
She was the first female president of Eastern Shore Community College in Melfa. She served as vice president at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Biloxi, Mississippi, and as a business dean at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland and at Jefferson Community College in Stubenville, Ohio.
She knows, believes in and is passionate about the mission of community colleges.
Community colleges change the course of people’s lives, putting education in reach for the average person, she said.
“We are about one third the cost of traditional colleges, they are near the homes of students and the faculty are very high quality,” Thompson-Stacy said.
They change the course of the region they operate in. Employers look to community colleges to build the workforce they will hire from.
The school added several new degrees and certification programs during her time, and has expanded its medical fields, including a state-of-the-art dental clinic.
She showed off the clinic to campus guests with the pride of a 16 year old with her first car.
The clinic is open to the public and has performed more than $300,000 in dental work — free of charge.
It has also added to its information technology and added a cybersecurity program.
“We were the first community college in Virginia to be named Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the NSA and U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” she said.
Despite the fact that education and these programs reap far more return than the amount of money invested, one of the biggest challenges Virginia community schools are experiencing right now is the cuts in funding from the state, Thompson-Stacy said.
“It has been very difficult. We have not seen that restored and I don’t think it will be,” she said.
Thompson-Stacy walked away having seen first hand how a community college changes the landscape of a community.
Increased enrollment, expanded programs and new or updated facilities — a to do list with most of the boxes checked off.
“Sometime that is a good time to leave when people want you here,” she said.