HAMLET — Saundra Richardson of Laurinburg will end a 30-plus-year career in education this week when she retires from Richmond Community College.
She has worked at colleges all over the country, including Georgia, Texas and Indiana, but the past four years she has been spent as vice president of Student Services at RCC.
“With the places I have been and the things I’ve been allowed to do in my career, I’ve had a good ride,” said Richardson, who retires on Thursday.
Richardson was the guest speaker for RCC’s graduation ceremonies in May, counseling students one last time before they go out in the world to start their lives and careers. She talked about growing up in the South during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and the importance of educating yourself and rising above ignorance.
Self-described as “old school,” Richardson also displayed during her speech her well known tough-love approach by saying, “I don’t know what’s going on in the homes these days, but we have a lot of students coming to us and acting as if they’re entitled. You’re not entitled to anything. Everything must be earned.”
Richardson, a native of Sanford, started out teaching in the public school system, but she found her niche in higher education while working as a receptionist at the Morehead Planetarium, a science center for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
She made the transition to the administrative side of education when she became a director at Queen’s University of Charlotte.
“Young adults intrigued me. At the college level, they are able to tell you what it is they want to do and where they want to go, and you are able to put the pieces in place for them to get from point A to point B,” she said. “Starting early in my career, the students were the most important part for me. Also I had the right mentors around me to steer me in this direction of making students the central piece.”
After working 10 years in North Carolina, Richardson moved around the country working as a director for various colleges and universities. In 2001, she was living in Texas and decided to move back home so she could be near her family and help care for her aging mother.
Richardson admits to giving up on ever becoming a vice president in higher education. In 2011, she was director of the Center for Academic Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. At UNCP, she loved advising and being involved with students, so it didn’t occur to her to apply for the vice president of Student Services position at RCC when it became available.
“I applied for this job because other people encouraged me to,” she said. “So, even with my doubts of being vice president material, I threw my hat in the ring, and I guess the rest is history.”
In 2011, Richardson became the first African-American to be a vice president at RCC.
“Saundra was the right person in the right place at the right time. She earned the job through her experience, talent and passion for our students,” said Dr. Dale McInnis, president of RCC. “I challenged her to be a champion for our students, and that’s exactly what she has been.”
“One College, One Mission, One Student Body” became the motto for Student Services. Richardson emphasized customer service and cross training for all staff members in Student Services. The college also initiated a new policy of registering students all the time and not just certain times of the year.
“Student Services is the front line,” Richardson said. “So I wanted students who walked into our office to be treated courteously and be able to get what they needed and not have to go over here or over there. We became a one-stop shop.
“It always goes back to the students,” Richardson added. “We want to serve them from the time they walk in our doors to the time they walk across the stage at graduation. If you serve them the right way, then you can get them from point A to point B.”
Richardson says she’s not retiring; she’s switching gears. She doesn’t plan to just sit around the house and “become mush,” but she also hasn’t committed to any one plan just yet. She would like to travel, write a book perhaps, be an educational consultant, spend time with her three children and 12 grandchildren, and try new things.
“It’s not beyond me if I get bored to go down to McDonald’s and work down there, because to me a job is a job,” she said.
One thing is for sure: Richardson is working up until her final day. She wanted to stay on board with projects and things going on at RCC until her last day with the college.
“I am going to miss Saundra deeply, but she leaves knowing she has transformed Student Services, raised our standards and helped make One College, One Mission, One Student Body a reality and not just a slogan for RCC,” McInnis said.