By Annie Rhoades
Many alums graduate from college and move on to pursue various career options. Some are fortunate to have an end goal in mind and attain it. But for alumnus Valmadge Towner (PhD 10), president of Coahoma Community College, a career in higher education was never on the table.
“I didn’t set out in the beginning to be where I am,” said Towner. “It was my intent out of high school, and maybe even college, to become a commercial airline pilot.”
Due to the high expense of attending flight school, Towner decided to listen to the advice of his parents and settled on what he thought would be a short-term career in education.
“My parents were both educators and they convinced me to major in education,” said Towner. “They suggested maybe I could teach for two or three years and then get my pilot license.”
A 1987 graduate of Quitman County High School, Towner enrolled at Coahoma Community College in the fall of 1987, majoring in math education. He went on to receive a bachelor of science in mathematics in 1991 from Alcorn State University, as well as a master of education in mathematics in 1994 and a master of education in administration in 1997.
“I ended up getting my first job offer at Aggie High School, which is on campus with Coahoma Community College,” said Towner. “However, before school started a position became available on the faculty at Coahoma, and the president asked me if I would take that position. That’s when I started teaching.”
That first teaching stint turned into a long career in education, and Towner went on to serve as principal of Quitman County Middle School and later as superintendent of education for Quitman County School District.
Towner’s career took a turn in 2002 when he left his job as principal of Quitman County Middle School to pursue a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, N.J.
After graduating from seminary in 2006, Towner returned to Mississippi and soon began serving as the pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Greenwood.
“My father and grandfather were both ordained Baptist pastors, so it was in my tree line to minister,” said Towner. “But then it’s also a personal walk with Christ that allows me to do that. It’s probably the most serious thing on my plate and something I will probably never retire from.”
In addition to serving as a pastor, Towner accepted the position of superintendent of education for Quitman County School District. Soon after he decided to enroll in the University of Mississippi’s doctoral program in educational leadership.
“I thought Ole Miss had the best program in the state, and I still believe that,” said Towner.
An inductee of the University of Mississippi’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter, an international honor society in education, Towner received his Ph.D. in educational leadership in 2010.
He fondly recalls the time he spent with his fellow students and professors.
“The process of getting the dissertation done and meeting with faculty advisors is truly memorable,” said Towner. “Also the camaraderie with your fellow classmates. I was in a Desoto County board meeting and an associate superintendent came up to me who knew me from Ole Miss. I didn’t know a lot of people there and that really made feel at ease. Those relationships you develop with classmates are important.”
Towner began his current role as president of Coahoma Community College in July 2013, and could not be happier with his decision.
“To develop goals and strategies and then reach those goals is one of the favorite parts of my job,” said Towner. “And more importantly to see how it benefits students, particularly at the college level. It’s all about the student experience and how you can make the student experience great.”
Through all of the different turns in his life, Towner realizes the integral role education has played in his decisions.
“Receiving an education at the university level is the apex,” said Towner. “It’s a way of setting an example to students and even colleagues. You always want to push yourself to the max if you’re blessed to have that opportunity. Hopefully it serves as a testament that if I can do it, maybe somebody else can do it too.”