Life Path: New community college president shares her journey

Susanne Adams on the importance of work-life balance.
photo by Amy Conry Davis
Susanne Adams in practices yoga at her North Carolina home.


One main goal of Brunswick Community College is to reach first generation college students and to help them succeed. So, it’s appropriate that the school’s new (and first female) president, Susanne Adams, was the first in her family to go to college.

Adams said she was nurtured by her mother who had a knack for grammar and her father who was so good at crosswords he did them in ink.

“When I did my homework, it would be a learning experience for the family. Mom was looking for grammar and my dad would say, ‘What about this word?’” she said.

It was no surprise when she majored in English and earned her master’s degree in reading at Virginia Tech, where she also tutored the basketball team.

Petite, with dark hair and expressive eyes that reflect her energy and intellect, Adams, 58, has a contagious passion for education.

“She’s very personable and very energetic. She pulls you into her conversation. That set her apart from many of the other candidates,” said Lynda Stanley, who led the board of trustees’ candidate search.

Adams listens intently to those around her and responds thoughtfully, looking the speaker in the eye whether it’s one-on-one in her office or to a room full of Rotarians. She is focused and grounded. It’s not surprising that she regularly practices yoga.


After several years in the teaching profession, Adams pursued her Ph.D. in curriculum instruction at N.C. State.

“I finished the classes and was ready to start writing my dissertation when life took a turn, and I needed to be with my children,” she said.

When she decided to go back to school in 2003, her interests and academic experience had changed.

“I decided to go into administration, and nothing I had taken transferred,” she said.

She studied with a cohort of 12 who met at the community college system office in Raleigh with instructors from East Carolina University. She credits her commuting and cohort colleague, Judith Mann, with helping her complete her Ph.D. in 2006. “The first time around, I didn’t have that,” Adams said.

Her mentor, John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College helped form some of Adams’ management philosophy: that no job is worth doing if you can’t have fun doing it and that you can’t expect your faculty and staff to treat students as special people unless you treat your faculty and staff as special people.

“Work isn’t always serious. Work also has to be fun. That’s something I don’t think everybody is used to. You can be a little silly and still be serious about it. It’s up to us at an administrative level to make sure the staff and employees at the college are as happy as they can be,” Adams said.