- Associated Press - Saturday, December 9, 2017

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Adam Breerwood remembers a disappointing day in his career at Pearl River Community College, one that changed his life.

Breerwood, who’s been president of PRCC since July 1 and spent 21 years working at the college, recalls a meeting he had about two decades ago with then-president William Lewis. At the time, Breerwood was assistant baseball coach and worked in maintenance.

“I expected Dr. Lewis to tell me I would be head baseball coach,” Breerwood said. “He told me ‘we’re going in a different direction with the baseball job, but we have plans for you.’

“I was disappointed. I didn’t realize it, but my whole life was changed at that point.”

Breerwood’s tale of advancement at PRCC is something the students there can look up to and emulate. He started at the college as a student and eventually made his way to the head office.

Now, in his sixth month as president, Breerwood, 43, is confronting the challenges of running a college that has suffered budget cuts and enrollment declines. He’s anticipating expansion with plans to build a new college in Hancock County. And he’s embracing change in a climate where career technical education can no longer be all things to everybody.

But back in 1997, Breerwood had lost the baseball coach job and moved on to become head soccer coach. He was thoroughly expecting to follow an athletic career path at the college. The following year, however, Lewis promoted him to assistant director of recruitment and then director of recruitment.

A few years later, Breerwood, by now ready to take on an administrative role, asked for even more responsibility.

“Our dean of students left, and I told Dr. Lewis, I would really like to be dean of students,” Breerwood said. “I was 27-28. I sensed some hesitation, but he said ‘we are going to give you a chance.’

“I felt like I could help people as dean of students. I got to know our students on a different level.”

Breerwood was eventually promoted to vice president of the Poplarville and Hancock County campuses in 2012. Then this year, after 27 months as president-elect, he became president.

“In my wildest dreams I was never supposed to have the opportunity to serve as president of a college,” he said. “Nobody in my family had the opportunity to go to college.

“People can find excuses for why they don’t succeed, but if you keep at it, invest in yourself, dedicate yourself to it, dreams do come true.”

Marilyn Dillard, who has served as executive administrative secretary to several PRCC presidents, remembers Breerwood in his early days.

“For awhile, he wasn’t even paid,” she said. “We gave him a dorm room and he helped out as an assistant in the baseball area. He finished his associate’s degree and got his bachelor’s degree, and we started giving him a stipend and he moved up through the ranks.

“It’s just amazing to see how he’s grown over these years. He’s doing a tremendous job. He’s a wonderful young president.”

Breerwood said his career at PRCC has been rewarding because he has had the opportunity to work with and serve students. He tells the story of a childhood friend who wasn’t allowed to be on sports teams because he had a mental disability. Breerwood’s parents set up an intramural league for his friend and others like him so all children could play sports.

“I think I learned the desire to serve and assist people from my parents,” he said. “That’s what really drives me.

“The academics aren’t what knock students off course. It’s the financial challenges, the family problems. We have to really get to know them. Our students come from challenging situations.”

Jana Causey, vice president of the Forrest County campus, said she sees Breerwood’s desire to serve.

“He works hard around the clock,” she said. “He’s going to encourage you to work hard and then he’s going to work harder. He will do whatever it takes to support you to get the job done.

Dr. Breerwood has an incredible story. Students can look to him. He was one of them and he was able to become president of the college. Students can look at that and see what the possibilities are if they work hard and do their best - they can achieve great things.”

The challenges Breerwood is facing aren’t so bad, he said. Despite enrollment drops over the past few years, he said enrollment is up this year. A budget cut of more than $1.5 million is something that concerns him, but Lewis raised tuition, eliminated positions and reduced the length of some contracts to deal with the cutback.

“I’m a baseball guy, so I say, ‘there’s never a bad day to play shortstop for the Yankees.’ I love it,” Breerwood said. “People talked to me about all the challenges, but we’ve made our way.”

Breerwood, however, admits the financial situation has changed the way PRCC does business.

“We’ve been forced to look at all our programs - which ones we need to close, which ones we can maintain for awhile,” he said. “For so long, the community college has been so many things to all people. Now we’re being forced to say what can we do efficiently to really boost our state and economy?”

Breerwood also said PRCC is moving from becoming a precursor to college to an adult career technical educator.

“I can feel a shift where the state wants us to go and I’m OK with that,” he said. “For so long, everything was based on a strict academic route. Now we have individuals lined up wanting to hire these students at $49,000 a year with a full benefits package.

“We need to give (the students) something that is going to work for them. College is expensive, and there’s a lot of time to be knocked off between graduating high school and the end of college.”

Breerwood isn’t letting budget cuts limit PRCC’s expansion. He has plans to build a new college in Hancock County to offer higher education opportunities to the coastal workforce and to aid local industry.

The first step is the construction of a workforce development center in Hancock County, funded by $2.5 million in BP and Deepwater Horizon oil spill money. The center will focus on existing and future industry needs.

Martha Smith, vice president for the Poplarville campus and general education, isn’t surprised to see Breerwood embracing change.

“He helps us see what his ideas are and where he wants to take the college,” she said. “He doesn’t wake up wanting to be No. 2. He wants PRCC to be the best and he translates that to us with his enthusiasm and energy.

“He has pumped new energy into the college. That’s good. Every so often, you need someone to shake things up. You need things to happen to cause people to become uncomfortable and alert to what’s happening.”

As Breerwood continues to shake things up for the betterment of students, commerce and the economy, he is constantly evaluating and shifting to meet the demands the future will bring.

“I hope PRCC is recognized as a valuable resource, not only to train current workers for industry, but also as a recruiting tool for our cities who are trying to get companies to move to this area,” he said. “I want to do whatever is necessary to prepare our students for the jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Adam Breerwood

Age: 43

City of residence: Poplarville

Family: Wife, Shana, daughter, Lexey, 17, son, Blaise, 16

Education: Associate’s degree, Pearl River Community College, bachelor’s in history and education, master’s in education, William Carey University, Ph.D. in higher education, University of Southern Mississippi

Employment: 21-year career at Pearl River Community College, starting as assistant baseball coach, moving up to vice president of Poplarville and Hancock County campuses, 2012-July 2017, president, July 1-present

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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