By Sara Foss
Patrick Henry College
Dr. Laura McCollum
During her time at the College, Dr. McCollum spearheaded PHC’s efforts to secure national accreditation in April 2007 with TRACS (Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools), was instrumental in establishing an administrative culture of assessment and institutional effectiveness, and helped position the College for effective future growth, administrative stability and a bid for regional accreditation.
“Dr. Laura McCollum has had a pivotal role in the development of Patrick Henry College,” said PHC President Dr. Graham Walker. “Her contributions as a faculty member have been matched by her critical achievements first as Director of Assessment, then as Academic Dean, and finally as Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness & Strategic Initiatives. She has a gift of organizational genius, an ability suited to the institution-building efforts of a new college like Patrick Henry. Her work has borne fruit in many ways, most recently in the successful reaffirmation of our TRACS accreditation: ten additional years of accreditation that is fully recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and other institutions.
Dr. Laura McCollum and assistant and PHC Alumna Naomi Harralson ('05) in 2007 with collection of accreditation material to send to TRACS.
“Dr. McCollum’s work has set us up for success in our upcoming application to SACS,” he added. “She has built a top-caliber Office of Institutional Effectiveness. She has put in place the personnel, the software, the processes, the assignments—even the rough drafts!—that form a smooth success pathway for this project. The entire College congratulates her, and we continue to pray for her family as they approach an exciting new season in their service to Christian education.”
Dr. McCollum’s husband, Dr. Steven McCollum, will remain at PHC as the head of the music department, and Dr. Laura McCollum anticipates frequent interaction with the College’s faculty, staff and students.
On her departure, Dr. McCollum shared some thoughts about her experience at PHC.
What have you most enjoyed about your experience at PHC?
The teaching that I’ve been able to do with the CLA students and the PHC 491 students has been exceptionally rewarding and is truly my heart. I feel very divinely called as a teacher and feel that administration is really a service. I have most enjoyed in particular some fantastic discussions about the purpose of education in a variety of settings.
What do you consider among your most satisfying contributions to PHC?
Having cultivated a culture of assessment. We continue to embrace more fully a community sense of willingness to take a look at who we are, what we believe, how we go about comporting ourselves, because we understand that accountability and transparency, which are key elements of assessment are really Biblical principles. And it’s the accountability that really produces freedom or liberty. So in that way I feel really proud of the fact that culturally, as a community, when we embrace those principles of assessment, we’re really cultivating a place where we can increase our liberty in Christ.
It’s a beautiful parallel, I think, in terms of a supernatural sensibility that in confession we experience freedom from condemnation. In accountability, when we commit ourselves to a goal and are accountable to it publicly, and then when it succeeds, we can celebrate God’s role in it and really give glory where it’s due.
Back in 2007, how did you know that God called you here?
All of the circumstances that my husband and I encountered when we worked for Dr. Walker in Oklahoma culminated in clarity about God bringing us to this place. It was pretty uncanny, I think, that when he was brought here as the new president, he felt that the institution had a couple of key needs in terms of expertise—one of which was someone who could cultivate and develop the music and arts and then someone who could help with assessment and accreditation. And it just so happened that here we were.
It was not our thought or intention to leave Oklahoma. [At Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Dr. Steven McCollum was a professor of music and Dr. Mrs. McCollum served on the faculty of the education school and also worked with assessment.] We had only been there for a year. So we really had to pray about this very odd possibility that the Lord had put in front of us and we came away from a time of prayer and fasting with such clarity.
It was very confirming even in as much as it was confounded by what man’s wisdom would have said, but we often find that that is true when God’s will is clarified for us, that we have a supernatural peace amidst what may seem like a logical consternation.
How has the Office of Institutional Effectiveness that you helped create positioned the College in regard to a future bid for regional SACS accreditation?
Obviously all of the work that we did for TRACS is very helpful, as oftentimes the external review process focuses on consistency in terms of the different areas of best practices that they are looking for. Insofar as we had a very robust and successful presentation to TRACS, my area has gone about doing a map of the TRACS standards to the SACS standards. This is very helpful because those pieces from our TRACS presentation can and will be will utilized as part of the application and presentation to SACS.
I think that the institutional effectiveness office has very capable people, very faithful and diligent. We now have a Board-approved road map for how we’re putting together the application. So in that sense I feel as though there are pieces in place there and that people are working to have in readiness.
Could you share your hopes and expectations for PHC as an institution?
My greatest hope is that that leadership continues to operate in a unified way to clearly seek and serve Jesus Christ, because I think that’s the key for any one of us. Insofar as they continue to encourage that culture of assessment and continue to cultivate accountability and transparency, I think that that will really serve the future. And I’m obviously somewhat biased, I’m eager to see the CLA program grow, I’m eager to see the music major grow. I’m thrilled at the idea that our students will continue to pursue Jesus, the person of Jesus in a way that is with all their heart soul mind and strength. That’s what I’m really encouraged to see, because that’s the heart of what I believe this place is supposed to be about.