JJC hires new vice president

Dr. Amy Gray is the new Vice President of Academic Affairs. Gray is the top officer of the college under the current president, Judy Mitchell.

Gray has big plans for JJC. “One of the most important goals I have for JJC is that we, as a community, continue to embrace diversity and inclusion,” she said.

Gray has spent the last 20 years in various roles in Higher Education, but began her path in medicine, specializing in pediatrics.

“Science and medicine has been a passion of mine since childhood and I started my educational career by earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Biological Sciences on a pre-medicine track and then a Doctor of Medicine,” Gray said.

Then, however, Gray realized her true calling – education. She was offered a full-time position teaching Anatomy and Physiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology.

This prompted Gray to further her education and earn a Master of Education degree with a specialization in Leadership of Educational Organizations.

“Since then I have held progressive leadership roles as full-time faculty, Program Director, Department Chair, Associate Dean, Academic Dean, Director of Education, and Dean of Health Sciences,” Gray said.

Leading Gray to her current position, where she plans to serve in for the remainder of her career alongside her fellow faculty and staff to serve the student body of JJC.

Gray has created academic programs, hired incredible educators who changed their communities, and implemented social justice programs. However, her most meaningful accomplishments have involved individual students.

“There are a number of them that come to mind and what they had in common is that they did not think they could graduate from college,” Gray said. “They had the drive and the aptitude, but they did not have the self-confidence.”

One of these students Gray mentored years ago was a first-generation college student. She was a single mother of two children with no job and very little support who wanted to be a sonographer.

“I remember her coming to my office to apply for a student worker position. She arrived at the interview late, eating messy chicken wings, and flopped in a chair in front of my desk completely out of breath,” Gray said.

“While I was not impressed with her complete lack of professionalism, there was something about her that stood out. The odds were against her, yet she was doing her best.”

There are many students who are trying their best to succeed just like this one, and Gray recognizes that.

Gray offered this particular student the job knowing she would need a lot of guidance and for the next two years, the pair spent a lot of time together. While it was not always pleasant, the student learned how to study, manage her time, behave in a professional setting, manage conflict, and accept assistance for the first time.

Her ability to excel granted her the opportunity to walk across that stage and graduate.

“I was so proud of her and still am. She has been a sonographer for over 10 years now and is able to support her family,” Gray said. “Any small part I played in her accomplishments makes me realize this is where I want to be.”

As Gray is in the field she feels she is meant to be in here at JJC, she is working hard each and everyday to get closer to the goals she has set for herself and the students.

Research has shown that students learn more and work harder in a diverse environment, allowing them to push themselves further when there are people with different backgrounds and experiences working alongside them.

“When students with diverse backgrounds come together, the level of critical thinking and problem-solving is much higher,” Gray said.

College gives students the opportunity to become more open-minded and gain insight from those who are different from them. The best part is that they can do that in a safe, nurturing environment.

“Here at JJC, we have diversity. It is given to us,” Gray said. “However, inclusion is a choice.”

One of Gray’s favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou – “When you know better, you do better.” Similarly, “when we learn the inherent beauty of diversity, we are expected to embrace those who are different,” Gray said.

Growth in this area can only afford us better futures. However, the future is extremely uncertain at this time.

“While working hard to be the best leader I can be in higher education is challenging enough, adding a global pandemic and social unrest has greatly added to the challenges,” Gray said. “But, I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason.”

Some events give us the wake-up calls we did, as Gray recognizes, and she feels that when these challenges present themselves, she is given the responsibility to learn from them.

Despite COVID-19, JJC’s faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to convert to a virtual word, and Gray says she has never seen more committed professionals in her entire career. It humbles her to lead such incredible educators.

“While we have a long way to go as a community, I am proud of what JJC has accomplished in the past year regarding diversity and equity,” Gray said.

JJC and its faculty have no intention of slowing down with their growth and progress.

“Dr. Mitchell has made growth in this area one of her top priorities and I have seen some of the outcomes already,” Gray said. “The entire college has been immersed in diversity, equity, and inclusion training.”

This is all part of their strategic plan to help students and employees openly share their experiences and feelings. This leads Gray to believe that everyone is on the precipice of truly making change.

Change starts with people who bond over a common goal: making a specific change. However, it also starts with being empathetic to other people’s experiences.

Gray wants the students of JJC to know that she is with them 100% because she understands what they are going through.

“I have been where you are,” Gray said. “It was not easy. I did not grow up with everything given to me. I supported myself through college, grad school, and medical school.”

Like everyone, there were times where Gray felt like giving up, but she recognizes that what we are all doing can and will change the directory of our lives and is completely worth finishing.

“Once you earn your degree, no matter where you go, who you are with, what you do, no one can ever take this accomplishment away from you. You are a role model to those around you,” Gray said.

It should bring students joy to know that they have so much potential, but everyone has those moments when they feel hopeless, like their actions will not get them anywhere.

“If you ever feel like giving up, please come see me and we can talk about it! Many people along the way helped me and now it is my turn to help others realize their potential,” Gray said.