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HCC president to leave legacy of sustainability

When Rose Johnson took over at Haywood Community College five years ago, she was clearly a woman on a mission to transform both the campus and curriculum into a model of sustainability.

It wasn’t always obvious at the time, but it is blatantly so looking back. Johnson has instilled sustainable practices into every nook and cranny of the school.

Auto mechanics learn to brew batches of biofuel. Wood-working students will soon be using solar-power tools. Future construction workers are building a green model home. Students are even designing native rain gardens to catch run-off around campus.

When Johnson steps down from her post next summer, she believes the tradition of sustainability will carry on without her.

“It is so embraced by everyone on campus and the community. The interest and desire for that is not me driving it any more. It is now part of the college and part of the culture,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes her replacement will value and encourage the sustainable efforts.

“The incoming president will need to be someone who appreciates that and has an interest in taking that forward to the next level,” Johnson said.

Johnson announced last week that she would resign when her contract is up in June in order to spend more time with her husband, who lives in Raleigh where he works for the N.C. Rural Center as the director of business development.

Maintaining a long distance relationship is even tougher given the demanding jobs they each hold.

“Three years is a long time to be working the way we both do with high pressure positions and not enough time together,” Johnson said. “This job, as awesome as it is, is very time consuming.”

Johnson isn’t sure what she will do next. Johnson doesn’t seem quite ready for retirement and is contemplating the next stage of her career, somewhere to focus her interest and talents.

She isn’t limiting herself to the Raleigh area where her husband works, although she wants a job with the flexibility to take long weekends when needed to travel.

Johnson said he wanted to give the community college board of trustees ample time to find a new leader and make the transition as easy as possible.

“My goal became to leave the college and community in a loving way,” Johnson said.

At one time, Johnson’s contract automatically rolled over. Thanks to a friendly clause in the contract, it would renew itself without requiring a vote by the board.

This summer, however, the board voted to end the automatic rollover. Johnson would have to actively seek a renewal of her contract when it ended come June.

The make-up of the college board has shifted over the past two to three years. The county commissioners, who appoint people to the college board, got put out with Johnson and the community college last year over a new creative arts building.

County commissioners thought it was too expensive and that the price was being driven up by green building features, including solar panels. But the community college would not back down from the design.

Johnson said the controversy over the building project last year in no way influenced her decision to step down from HCC next year.

Another hallmark of Johnson’s tenure has been involvement off campus in the community.

“You can’t have a community college without a good community interface,” Johnson said.

Volunteer work has found her washing dishes for Folkmoot festival performers to teaching tourists about the elk in Cataloochee. Her most visible work has been a leadership role with the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, where, not surprisingly, she founded the Green Initiative to help business owners go green.

“I truly believe that a community college is meant to be involved with the community,” Johnson said, adding how she will miss both the college and community. “I believe it is a very vibrant college with a very strong community connection.

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