On eve of seventh inauguration, TJC reflects on presidents of the past 93 years

This is the first in a series of articles leading up to TJC’s presidential inauguration on Friday:

As it prepares to inaugurate seventh President Dr. Juan E. Mejia on Friday, Oct. 11, Tyler Junior College looks back at its leaders of the past 93 years.

G.O. Clough – 1926-27
In 1926, the city of Tyler had a population of almost 17,000 and was experiencing prosperity and bright prospects for the future. To ensure future growth, city leaders sought to provide affordable higher education for local students who otherwise would have had to travel large distances to attend the closest state university.

Two weeks after an anonymous contributor proposed the idea in an editorial in the local newspaper, the Board of Education of Tyler Public Schools first discussed the creation of a junior college. The board established a special committee, headed by Superintendent G.O. Clough and D.G. Connally, to study and promote the idea.

After strong public endorsement, Clough was named TJC’s first president and J.M. Hodges was selected as dean.

Tyler Junior College was founded on Sept. 17, 1926, with nine faculty members and 93 students attending. Nine students earned degrees in the College’s first commencement.

J.M. Hodges – 1927-46
Hodges went on to serve as president from 1927 to 1946, a period that saw TJC’s enrollment drop during the Great Depression and then rebound from a federally sponsored aviation program instituted in 1939 during World War II followed by a surge in enrollment during post-war prosperity.

Dr. Harry Jenkins – 1946-81
In 1945, voters overwhelmingly approved creating a separate junior college district and passed a bond election, clearing the way for a self-supporting college. 

That same year, a man whose name became synonymous with Tyler Junior College – Dr. Harry Jenkins – was appointed president of TJC.

Jenkins led 35 years of growth and expansion of the College. He recruited high school faculty to teach at TJC part time, established athletic programs (and demanded they win), convinced the federal government to donate old Camp Fannin buildings to the College, expanded vocational and technical programs, and worked with area hospitals to make an existing nursing school part of TJC.

He also oversaw campus expansion by broadening the tax district to include area school districts and enlisting private donations to help spur a campus building program.

Dr. Raymond Hawkins – 1981-94
In 1981, Dr. Raymond Hawkins became president of TJC and, for 13 years, oversaw a major campus master plan that called for construction of a student center, a new residence hall, a health and physical education facility and an administration building.

Dr. Bill Crowe – 1994-2007
Dr. Bill Crowe, who had served in two dean positions and as associate vice president, was selected to succeed Hawkins in 1981. Crowe is heralded for helping the College navigate through its loan debt that allowed for the new buildings and for connecting TJC to major donors during his 13-year tenure.

During Crowe’s time at TJC, enrollment first broke through the 10,000 mark, with 10,021 students attending in fall 2007.

Dr. Mike Metke – 2007-19
Dr. Mike Metke succeeded Crowe in December 2007. During the Metke era from 2007 to 2019, TJC’s enrollment grew to more than 12,000 students, infrastructure was improved and shored up, and the Presidential Honors Program was strengthened.

New buildings were added, including the Robert M. Rogers Nursing & Health Sciences Center, the Energy Center at TJC West, and the Crossroads residential hall, as well as major expansion of the TJC Earth and Space Science Center featuring Hudnall Planetarium.

Mejia inauguration set Friday, Oct. 11
On July 1, Dr. Juan E. Mejia became TJC’s seventh president.

He will be inaugurated in a formal ceremony at 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, in Wagstaff Gymnasium on the TJC campus. Admission is free, and the public is invited to attend.

“TJC is a world-class, premier, and award-winning institution of higher learning, and I am honored and grateful for this privilege,” he said.   
 
A native of McAllen, Mejia completed his first postsecondary credential from Texas State Technical Institute, followed by his baccalaureate degree from Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Texas A&M University – Kingsville.
 
He joined TJC in 2013 as vice president for student affairs and soon after assumed the role of provost and vice president for academic and student affairs. Most recently, he served as president for branch locations and district provost. Prior to TJC, Mejia served as vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer at South Texas College, where he is also recognized as a founding member of the institution.

Mejia said, “First and foremost, our priority is student and community success, through a culture of authentic caring, empowerment, excellence and integrity: We are focused on becoming One TJC, and that will triangulate culture, strategy and heart.”
 
Mejia represents TJC through his service on the boards of the Community College Baccalaureate Association, the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Tyler and the East Texas Human Needs Network. He is a member of the Tyler Business Education Council, the Tyler Area Partnership 4 Education, the Smith County Seat Coalition and the Lindale Music Friendly Community Designation Committee.
 
He has previously served on the boards of the National Council for Workforce Education, the Texas Associate of College Technical Educators, the Literacy Council of Tyler, CASA of East Texas, and the Tyler Innovation Pipeline.

“The junior/community colleges that will distinguish themselves will all share common ingredients,” Mejia said, “and these include trustees with a spot-on vision about what they wish to accomplish, faculty, staff and administrators who have a commitment to excellence, students who are heroes, and communities that are pro-education and supportive.”

Today, TJC is one of the largest community colleges in Texas, providing access at its main campus in Tyler and throughout the East Texas region at TJC North, TJC West, TJC Jacksonville and TJC Rusk.

With more than 660 faculty and nearly 13,000 students per semester, TJC awards more than 2,500 degrees and certificates each year.

“Our communities are the cornerstone of the success of our institution,” Mejia said.

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