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GETTING TO KNOW: Jeanne Wesley

FULL NAME: Jeanne L. Wesley

FAMILY: Married to Al Durante for 26 years. Met him in New York City at the NYU Bookstore.

WORK: Vice president of workforce at Germanna Community College

Education/training: Received my undergrad degree in Arkadelphia, Ark., at Ouachita Baptist University; my master’s in Tucson, Ariz., at the University of Arizona; and my doctorate at Texas A&M University. Obviously, I like education and traveling.

My father was worried I was turning into a professional student, but perhaps he was only predicting my future in leading folks to understand the need for professional development and lifelong learning. It’s a must in this fast-paced, highly competitive world.

Where you grew up: Grew up in what is known as the ArkLaTex, defined by drawing a circle around the intersection of the borders of Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. Make a trip across the ArkLaTex and you go from the piney woods to bayous with alligators to the foothills of the Ozarks. As you move across the area, you can sample Cajun and Creole cuisine or stop for Texas barbecue. Accents change with the landscape.

How you got to Fredericksburg: I wasn’t actively looking for a job, but I saw a posting in The Chronicle of Higher Education for a vice presidency at Germanna’s Center for Workforce. It was basically what I was doing as an associate vice president for workforce and economic development at a college in East Texas.

I sent in my application and was notified that I was on the interview list. I flew into Richmond, rented a car and drove straight into downtown Fredericksburg. I parked, walked around and fell in love.

That day, the first day of my two-day interview, was the first time I had ever been in Virginia. That night I had dinner with David and Linda Sam at La Petite Auberge. By the end of the next day, I had toured three Germanna locations, met scores of fine folks and was certain I wanted to live here, work at Germanna and be a Virginian.

Current job(s): Luckily, I was offered the job and have had the pleasure of working as Germanna’s vice president for workforce. From my love-at-first-sight experience, I have moved to a long-term relationship by taking an active role in the community.

I am a board member of the Rappahannock United Way, the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber’s Workforce NOW and FredTech. I am on the board of FredXchange, and am committed to building a startup community in the Fredericksburg area. I also serve on the board of the Piedmont Workforce Network.

Jobs you’ve held prior: Previously, I worked for Texas State Technical College in Marshall, Texas. Marshall has a connection to Fredericksburg in that James Farmer was born there and attended Wiley College (where he led the famous debate team featured in “The Great Debaters” movie starring Denzel Washington) and first became active in the civil rights movement.

I also lived in New York City and worked for New York University. I had a variety of jobs when I was younger. I was a salesperson at a New Age bookstore run a by a swami and a secret shopper at a chain of Middle Eastern restaurants in NYC.

What you do as vice president of workforce and community relations?: I lead Germanna’s Center for Workforce and Community Education at multiple campuses and sites in Stafford, Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Orange, King George, Caroline counties and the city of Fredericksburg.

We offer career preparation and career advancement programs designed to fast track you into a job or push you up the career ladder. Our plan is to “skill up” Fredericksburg, the region and all of Virginia.

SkillUpVA is our program designed to empower people with skills to improve, advance and succeed in the workforce. We have numerous certifications, credentials and apprenticeships aligned with community, employer and regional economic needs.

Whether you are interested in brushing up, you need communication skills or want to start a career in health care, technology, national security, advanced manufacturing/industry, or plan to open an exciting new business, we can accommodate you.

To further boost the local economy and help businesses be more competitive, we offer customized business training at our location or at a business site to improve profitability, increase employee technical skills and address organizational needs.

What workforce programs do you find most exciting at Germanna?: We have so many. We host startup weekends in partnership with FredXchange. We usually have around 80 people coming from around the region and even beyond state borders to be together for weekend-long experience in pitching ideas, forming teams and starting companies.

Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54-hour frenzy of business model creation and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback. The next Startup Weekend FXBG at Germanna is Sept. 26–28, 2014.

Our new “Startup School” is a series of workshops throughout the year taught by local entrepreneurs. Anyone interested in creating anything from a coffee shop to a tech company needs these skills.

What’s next for the program?: Launching a drone program. We’re building drone parts with our 3-D printer and are planning for a build-out and fly-in for this fall. The program will offer training of interest to drone folks and those interested in exciting aerial video production via drone. I’m also excited about our new virtual welder equipment and class. I want to be the first person to try it.

What advice do you have for someone seeking to further their career through a workforce development program?: If you are unemployed or underemployed, I would suggest you come see our adult career coach. You can call Michelle Beverage at 540/736-8041. She can give you information about the programs and services available, provide one-on-one career assessment and counseling.

She can also provide information about Germanna’s many degree programs that lead to a career or offer guaranteed transfer options at top universities. Anyone can check the Web or feel fee just come see us at Germanna. The folks at our Welcome Centers will be happy to see you.

What makes your program unique? Our willingness to pivot quickly and create programs that respond to unique area needs, then to offer training on-site at businesses. Also, the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that will provide free training beginning this summer. Germanna is the first Virginia community college to originate its own MOOC.

Having worked at other higher education institutions, what do you think Germanna’s strengths are? I’ve worked at large universities and small community colleges. Germanna has a level of commitment to the community and to each student that I’ve rarely seen. As the state cuts funds and the student population grows, the staff and faculty work harder, stay longer and take on more jobs.

Everyone that comes in our door is important. We are here to change lives and we do that every day. I’m proud of the caring relationship between faculty, staff and students at Germanna.

—As told to Lindley Estes