If it’s true that Northeast Alabama Community College (NACC) is the heart and soul of two counties, as Jackson County Circuit Judge John Graham once said, then Dr. David Campbell is the beat in the heart and the feeling in the soul.
In a conference room, past his office, the humble, soft-spoken president talks more about others than himself. It’s always been that way, you could say.
“I’ve watched my dad work to make our region stronger my entire life,” said Campbell’s son, Jeremy. “That was even before he became president. His accomplishments are not because of the job title. They are because of the man. He was silently doing things to help others well before he was appointed, and he always will. That’s the essence of who he is.”
He is a small town boy, who excelled in sports at Scottsboro High School, the place he met his high school sweetheart, Carole and later married her, attended four universities and then came home to make a difference
Campbell graduated Auburn University in 1967 with a liberal arts degree, and then received a Master’s Degree at Florida State University in 1970 in American Studies. In 1975, he earned his doctorate in American Civilization from the University of Texas.
In the mid 1980’s, Campbell attended the University of Alabama, earning a mini postdoctoral.
“It gave me more hours in sociology,” he said. “I used the courses I took to do research on Skyline Farms and, as a result, along with the professor I was working with, had an article on Skyline Farms published in Appalachian Journal.
After graduating Texas, he and Carole, along with new born son, Jeremy, returned to Jackson County. In 1976, Campbell went to work at NACC, as an adjunct instructor
Forty years later, he’s still here, welcoming guests, encouraging students and faculty and leading the college as one of the best community colleges in the country.
Campbell never planned on being a college president. Instead, his focus was on teaching and spending time working on community projects, including the Skyline Farms Research and Exhibit, a documentary titled, “Bob Jones: A Congressional Legacy that aired on Alabama Public Television and the preservation of the Scottsboro Depot.
In the mid 1990’s, Campbell was chosen as the state’s Most Outstanding Faculty Member.
In March 2001, the untimely death of NACC President Charles M. Pendley changed Campbell’s life.
Campbell applied for the position, going through the hiring process.
“I had a lot of good local support,” he said. “If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have applied.”
In October 2001, Campbell got the job, as president of the college. Years later, he learned Pendley had put him in position to one day take over.
From the beginning, Campbell said he has enjoyed his time as the college’s president.
“There was a learning curve and challenges,” said Campbell. “But I had a lot of good help. It’s been very rewarding.”
Also, from the beginning, Campbell worked to expand the college’s workforce and STEM programs, culminating in the addition of a state-of-the-art mathematics, science and engineering technology center and a health/workforce complex.
“I wanted us to be a more comprehensive community college,” he said.
In 2003, NACC added the Adult Education Program. Today, Huntingdon College and Athens State University are on campus, and it was recently announced that the University of Alabama has online programs now for NACC students.
During Campbell’s tenure, the college has substantially increased its enrollment and greatly expanded its mission of providing career technical programs.
NACC was also one of the first colleges in Alabama and the South to be totally Wi-Fi.
Each year, NACC has a slew of community activities that rank near the top of the area’s to-do list.
“We are really involved in the community,” said Campbell. “I am proud of that. People come here for various events.”
Those events include the Latino Festival, the Alabama Ballet, the college’s Foundation Gala, the Dogwood Hills Golf Tournament, Music on the Mountain and much more. And of course, the theatre program, is one of the very best anywhere around.
“Any kind of opportunity, we’ll do it,” said Campbell. “It’s an enrichment for the community.”
And when people travel Highway 35, past the college, they can only gaze at the beauty.
“I am very proud of the way the campus looks,” said Campbell. “The new buildings, all the landscaping and lighting set the tone for the atmosphere it creates. An attractive campus gives students a sense of pride. We feel we have a very student-friendly campus.”
There’s issues he deals with, like any boss or CEO does. Soon after he became president, Campbell got questions about a basketball program.
Like everything else in life, it’s a matter of financing. While a big sports fan himself, Campbell said he believes it’s more important to put resources into the workforce development program.
Campbell oversees over 300 full and part-time employees. He has the final decision in the hiring process, something he says he takes very seriously.
“It’s the most important thing I do,” said Campbell. “I just think it’s really important. It can have a real impact on your school. A lot of people are interested in working here. I take that as a compliment.”
Under his leadership, the Aspen Institute has named the college among the Top 10 percent of the approximately 1,200 community colleges in the United States. CNN/Money and BestSchools.com each placed NACC in the Top 20 of American Community Colleges.
Campbell has served as president of the Alabama Community College Association and the Alabama Community College Presidents’ Association. He also serves as chairman of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and chairman of the DeKalb/Jackson Counties Industrial Development Board.
As a member of the Jackson County EDA, Campbell said he could see the workforce needs.
“ I can plan programs out here,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed that.”
Campbell played a role in helping bring Google to Jackson County. And once it was official, he went to work for NACC and for the community.
“We put in some programs,” he said. “The HVAC program got started. There’s a need for that. People with that background can get hired by data centers. We’ve got advanced course computer software training. That creates opportunities for people in computer science.
Campbell has been named citizen of the year in Jackson and DeKalb counties. He’s been recognized as an Exemplary Leader by the Chair Academy and has received a national service award from Phi Theta Kappa. Campbell is a member and graduate of Leadership Alabama.
His job begins as soon as he wakes up each morning.
“I wake up with the phone by me,” Campbell laughs.
He’s at the college by mid-morning and usually stays until 7 or 8 p.m.
“That’s my good, quiet time,” he says.
Most days, there is usually an event at the college. And most days, the college president can be found there.
“I try to be there,” said Campbell. “Our people work hard, and I want to show my support and attend.”
His mind is always in motion, always looking for a way to make NACC even better.
“I’d love to do another building,” said Campbell. “A student services building. We’ve got the site picked out. Right now, the funding is just not there. Maybe one day.”
Expectations have been raised in the past 15 years about what NACC can accomplish.
“I think that, in the past, we in our area may have let the negative stereotypes of Appalachia define us too much, when actually our heritage is a strength,” said Campbell. “With some of our accomplishments we’ve had, such as being named by the Aspen Institute as one of the top community colleges in America, I think we have shown that people in our area can accomplish anything in education that anyone anywhere else can. As a result, people have higher expectations for the college and themselves. I am especially proud of that.”
He’s a humble man, who grew up in the small town of Langston and still lives there. He’s never forgotten his roots and strives each day to make people better, to make a community better.
“There’s been a lot of rewards,” he says. “[NACC] is important to me.”