External Degree Program director to retire at year’s end


Ian Major

Valerie Edwards

Long-time Johnson State College External Degree Program Director Valerie Edwards will retire at the end of this academic year.

Edwards started with the program in the fall of 1989 as a part-time advisor, in charge of advising 10 students.

The program originally revolved around independent studies, where each student would design their own degree plan.

In 2002 Edwards came to work full-time with EDP, as it began to experience radical changes in both design and reach.

She was involved in a co-directorship with David Cavanagh until his retirement, leaving Edwards to assume the sole director positon. Cavanagh is still involved part-time with the EDP.

“When I first started in 1989 we probably had approximately 60 students around the state,” says Edwards. “In our heyday about three and a half years ago we were up to around 620 total students, and for this spring 2016 semester we have around 440 students.”

Edwards described the fluctuation in the program’s enrollment as being typical. “The college is really starting to look at how to beef up the program and provide opportunities for more students,” said Edwards.

The majority of the program is currently course based, though Edwards explained that they will still do independent studies for students if needed. “Each semester EDP offers about 70 courses that are both online and weekend based,” says Edwards. “We are planning to promote the online aspect of the program outside of the state, anticipating an increase in our student body starting this coming fall semester.”

Edwards says that former JSC President Barbra Murphy really recognized the importance and strength of the program. “She was committed to making the program grow,” she says. “Over the years it has grown and I would say she had the vision for the program.”

JSC Dean of Academic Affairs Daniel Regan says that EDP is a very important part of JSC. “There are a lot of students involved in the program; it’s about one-third of the overall head count at JSC,” says Regan. “Edwards has had a lot of responsibility dealing with planning and operational details for all sorts of things that have our EDP label.”

Regan noted that he has seen the program serve many students over its existence. “We are looking forward to this program growing further and hopefully exceeding some of its previous years in enrollment,” says Regan. It’s a likely source of growth for JSC’s future.”

For her future, Edwards says that she is hoping to be able to teach more with the freed up schedule.

“Retiring from the director position will allow me to be able to teach more and have the benefit of being able to work part time for the college in some capacity,” says Edwards. “It’s not clear yet exactly what I am going to be doing but I will be continuing to work in EDP in some fashion too.”

As far as proud moments go for Edwards, she has a hard time picking just one. “I think that watching the overall development of the program in collaboration with Cavanagh is what I feel my biggest accomplishment has been,” says Edwards. “The two of us really took this program and developed it into a more accessible program for people.”

Edwards noted that leaving her current position elicits mixed feelings, but her departure will provide opportunities for new energy and new directions. “I think after a time in everybody’s life, it’s good to change,” said Edwards. “I think it is going to be really exciting and healthy for the program to have some new blood and energy.”

With the more flexible schedule Edwards says that she will also be able to visit her first grandchild in Pennsylvania, as her son and his wife are due in June.

“This means that I will have an opportunity to go down and see them more frequently,” says Edwards.

Edwards says that she wants to look at her time with EDP as helping create a legacy that will carry on, and that it will continue to be a strong component of the college’s overall educational offerings.
As far as replacing Edwards with a new EDP director, Regan says the college is pondering a variety of options.

“We are going to have to figure out some way to lead the program and organize it,” says Regan. “Honestly we are not really quite sure yet what that leadership model might be.”
Regan noted that JSC has been consulting with a company in Washington D.C. called The Education Advisory Board.

With the partnership, the college is going to be using them to consult with about a variety of matters including program development, marketing, and creating an appropriate leadership model and structure for the upcoming years for EDP.

In the end, Edwards says that she isn’t looking to fully detach herself from JSC.

“I love Johnson, it’s been a part of me for so many years, and it will be hard to separate when the time comes,” said Edwards.