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VOL. 129 | NO. 161 | Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Southwest’s Essex to Retire In 2015

By Bill Dries

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The leader who guided the merger of the city’s two community colleges announced Tuesday, Aug. 19, that he will retire in June.

Nathan Essex became president of Shelby State Community College and State Technical Institute at Memphis in 2000 as the two institutions were merging to become Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Essex was interim president and was named permanent president during the formal roll out of Southwest in 2001.

During his tenure, Essex has seen a fundamental change in the role of the state’s community colleges particularly in their new-found place in training workers for the resurgence of manufacturing in the state.

Southwest Tennessee was instrumental in developing an Industrial Readiness Training program to train workers for manufacturing jobs after the city landed several economic development plums in manufacturing. The initial search for workers at the plants nearly proved disastrous when the employers complained they couldn’t find the right employees.

Southwest Tennessee became the nerve center for the effort to provide those workers quickly and then broaden the effort to anticipate demand from future manufacturing companies. The program now trains workers in new skills at their existing jobs.

Southwest’s expansion has been more than the Industrial Readiness Training program touted by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam as an example of what other two-year colleges should be doing.

Before he leaves his post, Essex will be around for the opening of Southwest’s new school of nursing in January, which is part of an expansion in higher education in Memphis generally in the field.

The University of Memphis is anchoring its Park Avenue Campus makeover with a new school of nursing.

Essex has also seen the two-year college achieve a more central role with the coming of the Tennessee Promise program – a last dollar program that offers all Tennessee high school graduates two free years of community college.

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