Nearly a month into his new position as Dean of Academic Affairs on the Polk State College Lakeland Campus, John Glenn already has his finger on the pulse of what students need because “I am our students,” he says.
“I was the student who didn’t know how to go to college,” Glenn explains, pointing to the demographics of Polk State’s students, including the 52 percent who are the first generation in their families to go to college.
In addition to 75 percent of students enrolled part time and the average student age of 25, many are balancing responsibilities such as full-time jobs and raising families while trying to navigate their college journeys.
While Glenn wasn’t the first in his family to pursue higher education, he was expected to figure out his own path, and he admits that he did not make the best decisions at first.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but my teachers in high school had pointed out my strengths in writing, and that was really the impetus for me to go to college,” he recalls. “In my orientation course, I thought I was only required to attend the first class. That’s when I got my first and only F, and it was an overwhelming yet sobering moment for me.”
Glenn was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, by working-class parents who climbed their way up the socioeconomic ladder. He describes the culture of his family as one of strong, relentless work ethic.
He began his higher-education journey at Lawson State Community College and transferred to Miles College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English, fueled by the motivation of his high school teachers and inspired by the work of author James Baldwin.
“I read ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ and thought how wild it was that someone was able to produce such powerful literature,” Glenn says. “I was hooked and decided to spend my college years reading and writing as much as I could. Along the way, I met great professors who saw what I was capable of and set high expectations for me.”
He went on to pursue a master’s degree in Rhetoric and Composition, balancing his studies with a full-time job as a middle and high school English teacher.
“My schedule was tedious to manage, but it made my education affordable because I was able to pay my way through school,” he recalls, again pointing to the life responsibilities students juggle while pursuing their educational goals.
Then he decided to try his hand teaching at the college level, serving as an adjunct professor at the same community college he had attended as a freshman.
“I quickly realized that all students need guidance; it just varies by situation,” he explains. “At our community and state colleges, we have diverse populations, and we have to provide sequential levels of guidance in order to ensure success for everyone.”
“At our community and state colleges, we have diverse populations, and we have to provide sequential levels of guidance in order to ensure success for everyone.”
As Glenn became more immersed in the world of academia, he applied for doctoral programs at the University of Alabama and the University of Florida. Accepted to both, Glenn headed to the sunshine state for the opportunity to participate in a fellowship at UF, where he received a doctorate in English with a concentration in African American Literature and Cultural Studies.
There, he met his wife, started a family, moved south to Miami, and became a full-time professor of English at Broward College, where he inaugurated an English Honor Society and served as advisor of Phi Theta Kappa. With more opportunities finding their way to Glenn’s desk, such as a comprehensive program review, he started taking on additional leadership roles.
He applied for associate dean positions all over the country and landed in Lincoln, Nebraska. Little did he know that his new home in below-freezing temperatures would prepare him for his future at a much warmer Polk State College.
“Southeast Community College had something Polk State has – a culture of family,” Glenn explains. “The vibe was about serving students and finding ways to accomplish the College mission, and that’s what I’m all about.”
His experience prepared him for what he plans to do as Dean of Academic Affairs for the Lakeland Campus.
“I’m dedicated to making sure students, faculty, and staff understand the value they bring to our institution,” Glenn says. “I want to continue having conversations, listening, and learning from everyone because everyone’s input is valuable.”
That includes directions around Lakeland Campus from those who see Glenn walking in circles.
“The architects played an impressive practical joke here. They brought a famous short story (‘The Garden of Forking Paths’) to life,” he says.
Jokes aside, Glenn has a focus on innovation and aspires to bring out the ideas which “rest in the bellies of our faculty” to capitalize on ideas that will contribute to student success.
“I want to mobilize my colleagues and help elevate their insights about how to make Polk State an even better institution. Together, we can move Heaven and Earth – or maybe just a desk or two,” Glenn says, sneaking in some more comic relief. “Really, I’d just like to see people carry out their dreams to help continue innovation within our departments and programs.”
He notes how innovation is already taking place at Polk State as he has met with faculty and staff across a range of areas that he didn’t know the College offered.
“When I sit down with our coordinators and directors, their passion makes me want to either join their pathways or apply to their programs,” he says. “I want to encourage that kind of passion for our students.”
Glenn also wants to further strengthen the College’s efforts to serve underrepresented and underserved student populations and enhance bridge programs that allow high school students to seamlessly transition to the College.
“We are here to support our students, and when they take ownership of what they learn and of their journeys, amazing things happen.”
“We are in the business of reaching students where they are,” Glenn adds. “That means we have to serve them where they are.”
What he plans to tell those students is that they have the capability and the capacity they need to succeed.
“People should be encouraged to own their knowledge,” Glenn says. “We are here to support our students, and when they take ownership of what they learn and of their journeys, amazing things happen.”