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As he prepares to step away, MTC president expresses pride in college’s legacy

Christina Lee Knauss //October 25, 2023//

As he prepares to step away, MTC president expresses pride in college’s legacy

Christina Lee Knauss //October 25, 2023//

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When Ronald L. Rhames enrolled as a student at Midlands Technical College in Columbia as a young man, he had no idea he was starting a relationship with the school that would lead eventually to a 35-year career and end with him sitting in the president’s chair.

Ronald L. Rhames, once a student there, has been president of MTC since 2015, says he will retire before next summer. (Photo/MTC)Rhames, president of MTC since 2015, recently announced his plans to retire by late June of 2024.

“After all these years, it’s time to step away and find another way to be engaged in life,” Rhames told SC Biz News. “Looking back on my time here, I have the satisfaction of the foundation I got from being a student here, and then the pleasure of the amazing career that I’ve enjoyed working here.”

Rhames, who grew up in Columbia, has an associate degree in management from MTC, as well a business and economics degree from Benedict College, a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University and a doctorate in business administration from Nova Southeastern University. He   worked in the banking industry and then became the chief financial officer at Claflin University in Orangeburg. He was working at Claflin when he was offered a job at MTC, where he first served as senior vice president and chief operating officer.  It was the beginning of a tenure that would leave a lasting legacy.

“As a student here I was a beneficiary of the quality of education we provided, so I know personally firsthand how we impact people’s lives,” Rhames said. “When I had the opportunity to join MTC as chief financial officer I couldn’t wait to jump at it. I recognized the extraordinary opportunity.”

Rhames is passionate about MTC’s role in both guiding students to rewarding careers and helping generate much-needed employees for the rapidly growing industrial and business community in the Midlands and statewide.

“Increasing our workforce initiatives is one of the clear successes I’ve seen as president,” he said. “We’re making sure we not only nurture our students but also create new programs that really meet the needs of the area. One example is our new heavy equipment operations program, which is going to benefit the entire community as the area continues to grow and expand.”

He also is proud of MTC’s recent $50 million investment in building new facilities, including the $14.5 million learning resource center and $4.5 million industrial technology facility with 64 welding stations on the Beltline campus, and a $5 million renovation of the advanced manufacturing center at the Airport Campus in West Columbia. Currently under construction is the $30 million Lindau Engineering Technology Center on the Beltline campus, slated to open in spring 2024.

Rhames also is proud of MTC’s expanding role in workforce development, including expanded programs in specialty welding, plumbing, information technology and health care.

He has a personal perspective on what technical colleges can do for the workforce. His niece, he said, was looking for a good job and recently found one after completing a two-year degree in criminal justice at a technical school, and then a four-year degree at another institution.

“Our schools provide an economic benefit to our students because they can attend and graduate with little or no debt, and when they graduate they can either go on to a four-year institution or immediately start contributing to society, raising families and buying houses,” he said. 

He is also proud of the system’s history, and cites Harbison History Day as one of his proudest achievements. The event takes place annually in February at MTC’s Harbison campus, which was originally the location of the Harbison Institute. Founded in 1911, the institute offered educational opportunities for Black students during segregation. When it closed in 1958, its 19 wooded acres and six buildings were donated to MTC by the Harbison Development Corp., according to information from MTC. 

“There are still some original graduates of that school and each year we bring them to campus to celebrate with us,” he said. “In February 2023 we had a 100-year-old graduate of the original school who came back to campus to celebrate with us, and it’s a great, rewarding pleasure to see them and get to celebrate with them. One of my goals has been to preserve that campus’s history and continue to tell the story.”

A unique element of Harbison History Day is the ringing of a bell that once summoned students from nearby fields where they worked to help pay for their education, Rhames said. The bell was preserved and is now in a bell tower on the campus.

As Rhames prepares to move on, he is proud to see that MTC and the state’s technical college system as a whole are “stronger than ever,” he said.

“What we are doing here is more important than ever, and it’s also extremely flexible because here at MTC we are able to adjust and make changes to respond to the emerging economy and our students’ needs,” he said. “I am really proud of what our faculty and staff have done here to embrace the need to develop the workforce and meet the needs of the community.”