Freida Hill, chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, chose Staats from three finalists Thursday to be the next president for Gadsden State Community College.
Staats, currently chief academic officer at John Wood Community College in Quincy, Ill., is expected to start July 1 at his new job.
“My family and I are just absolutely excited and looking forward to getting started,” he said.
Staats is a retired U.S. Air Force officer with 20 years of experience in the education system, 10 of which were done in higher education within the Air Force. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics from Syracuse University, a master of science degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a doctorate from Virginia Tech.
He previously served as president for the Community College of the Air Force at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force base in Montgomery.
Staats’ hire ends a months-long process to find a replacement for former Gadsden State president W. Darryl Harrison, who vacated the position in October 2010 for personal family reasons.
More than 45 people from across the nation applied for the position before the Gadsden State Presidential Search Committee whittled the choices down to three options. The committee members were appointed by the chancellor of the state’s two-year college system and the Alabama Board of Education.
The other two finalists were Sylvia M. Burgess, associate vice president for academic affairs at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla.; and Martha G. Lavender, assistant to the president for Cherokee County operations and health sciences at Gadsden State.
Gadsden State serves Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne and Etowah counties and consists of four campuses and two centers. Its Ayers Campus, which has 18 buildings, and the McClellan Center, which has one building, are in Calhoun County. Its other sites include the Wallace Drive Campus, the East Broad Campus, the Valley Street Campus and the Gadsden State Cherokee Center.
The college has around 8,000 students.
Staats said he was drawn to the new position because he was impressed by what Gadsden State has to offer.
“Gadsden State is just a tremendous institution … the depth and breadth of the curriculum and the integration into the community,” he said.
Staats added that the move was a good decision for him since he has relatives in northern Alabama.
“It’s just an all-around good decision,” he said.
Staats said his first act as president will be grappling with Gadsden State’s financial situation. Like many other colleges and universities in the state, Gadsden State is strapped for funds due to the recession, forcing it to make significant cuts, including recently slicing funding to some of its athletic programs.
“The first thing I’ll need to do is learn where the college is and where it needs to go,” Staats said.
Other than that, Staats said he doesn’t have any major changes planned for the college, at least not until he becomes more acclimated to his new position.
“I think the most important thing early in a presidency is to establish yourself … learn the traditions and culture of the college before you do anything dramatic,” Staats said.
Attempts to reach Alabama two-year college chancellor Freida Hill Monday were unsuccessful.
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.