Ralls started the job in September, after serving as president of the North Carolina Community College System for 12 years.
Ralls calls himself a “huge fan” of NOVA’s former president, Robert Templin Jr., and says they both have similar values and see community colleges the same way.
“We’re a pathway college, not a destination college,” Ralls says, meaning most students don’t come to NOVA to complete their education; it’s a stop along the way toward a four-year degree. “Students here at NOVA are truly remarkable. There are a significant number of academically talented students,” he says.
The vast majority of students who earn an associate degree at NOVA transfer to George Mason University. “We’re more than partners, we’re more like siblings,” Ralls says of his relationship with GMU President Angel Cabrera. He also promises to continue the strong relationship NOVA has created with local public schools.
“Education works best when it’s seamless,” Ralls says.
One of his goals for NOVA is to strengthen the college’s workforce development programs, particularly in the areas of information technology and cyber security. NOVA already has one of the top 10 programs in cyber security, and he would like to see it move up to no. 1.
Ralls’ vision for the Annandale campus calls for an expanded culinary and hospitality program and strengthened partnership with Inova Health System. He hopes to collaborate with Inova as it launches a new center for personalized medicine on the former Exxon Mobil campus on Gallows Road. That center will offer lots of opportunities for NOVA graduates. “For every research scientist, they are going to need lots of lab technicians,” he says.
“I’m here because of the unbelievable potential here,” Ralls says. “NOVA is one of the best community colleges in the country.”
NOVA has about 78,000 students, with just under 20,000 at the Annandale campus. Total enrollment has dropped about 2 percent last year and 1 to 2 percent this year, Ralls says. As the economy improves, community college enrollment tends to decline nationwide, although NOVA’s enrollment hasn’t decreased as much as other Virginia community colleges.
The Wakefield Forum, hosted by Braddock Supervisor John Cook, meets about three or four times a year. At the most recent meeting, residents suggested a sidewalk or trail along Wakefield Chapel Road so students who park far from campus don’t have to walk in the street. Another idea called for incorporating parking costs into general fees charged to all students. The current parking fee is $80 per semester, regardless of whether students are full time or just take one course.