University of Texas - Pan American
"Now, don't get your dobber down."
Can you hear John Edwards saying that? John is a professional among us who is well known for his ease with a catchy phrase. He always looks at the bright side of the circumstances and with a phrase like "don't get your dobber down..." cheers up staff and colleagues.
Dr. John A. Edwards retired in December 2011 as the University of Texas Pan American's Vice President of the Division of Enrollment and Student Services.
John has left an enduring legacy in our association and in the state of Texas. He is known as a "statesman" among university enrollment management professionals, and, above all, as a 41-year advocate for students in promoting access to and success in higher education. UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen called John, a "true champion for students at UT Pan Am." Throughout his career John says his goal has always been to make a positive difference in the lives of students.
John grew up in East Texas where he says he learned valuable life lessons about compassion and inclusion of the less fortunate and underserved from his parents. I'm sure he also learned the art of a well crafted saying. I also imagine this is where he started his love of driving on the back roads of Texas instead of the highways, which continued through his roadrunner days, and through to today.
John started his education career in 1969 as a history faculty member at Murray State College in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. This is also where he took on his first adviser role sponsoring the African-American Student Union and where he learned some early lessons in the difficulties of change. A natural recruiter, John moved to Texas Tech University where he served from 1974-1985 and where he was founding director of the New Student Relations Office. From there he moved to East Texas State University (now known as Texas A&M University-Commerce) from 1985 to 2000, where he was the founding director and dean of Enrollment Management. John then ended his career at The University of Texas Pan American where he served from 2000 until his retirement in 2011 as Vice President.
Many of us view John as the "father" of enrollment management in Texas - or is it now that he is retired, the grandfather of enrollment management?
John's career is loaded with a long list of successes at each school at which he stopped. At UTPA alone, you can list development of the Valley Outreach Center, the UTPA PAL (Preparation for Adult Living) program, the Student Leadership Program, the Leadership Minor Program, the Distinguished Speakers Series, using the University's Visitors Center for popular exhibits like "A T. Rex Named Sue", the UTPA Transfer Center, the Veterans Service Center, the Scholarship Office, the Child Development Center and the Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex.
What John is best known for is being an ideas man. His colleagues have said that you never knew what to expect when you heard Dr. Edwards say "I've got an idea." They further explain that his creative thinking style had few boundaries. Some even described his mind as a "storm of ideas," summing up by saying, "He doesn't just think outside of the box, he thinks outside of the hemisphere."
As an ideas man, John was not afraid of change and the challenges it presented. It would be easy to imagine John saying, "the only people who really like change, are wet babies" as he acknowledged to his staff that change was difficult, but that if it advantaged students, it was well worth it.
John said of himself "The way my mind works, I never leave my job. However, the credit does not belong to me, the credit goes to the person who takes the idea, runs with it, implements it and makes it successful. Where we have been successful, the credit goes to the directors and their staffs who implement and do the work to help the students."
Throughout his career John put students first. Colleagues report that they saw him numerous times give a student cash out of his own pocket for them to buy groceries. He knew students by name; and, liked to visit with them in the cafeteria, and anywhere else he found them.
John and his wife Jeanell, a retired social worker reside in the Texas Valley. John continues to enjoy listening to his Victrola, just as he did every Friday while working, blaring from his office the sounds of Bob Wils and His Texas Playboys, Tex Ritter or some other music legend. He is a lifetime collector of antiques and a lover of history. He has returned to the classroom to teach U.S. history at UTPA. He and Jeanell, spend time in their travel trailer going to see new places in America, and spend more time with their two-year-old granddaughter Caroline, who lives in Austin with her parents.
In 2008, John was awarded Texas Business and Education Coalition TBEC's Distinguished Achievement Award in Education for his involvement and support for the TBEC Texas Scholars and Honor Roll Schools initiatives in South Texas that served as models for the entire state. Ken Zornes, executive director said that "His knowledge of the issues relating to public education in Texas and his commitment to finding ways to help all students reach their potential, distinguishes John not only as a scholar, but also as a leader among peers."
John has served in many capacities during his 31 years in TACRAO including numerous times as a moderator, recorder, and presenter. He served on many committees, often as chair, including High School Relations, Historical, Legislative Issues, Strategic Enrollment Management and Nominations. John led the development of the Texas Common Course Numbering System (TCCNS) which has 120 higher education institutions participating and made sure that the database was adequately supported.
John served on the TACRAO Executive Committee as Secretary-Treasurer for three years from 1983-86, then as President Elect, President, and Past President from 1989 - 1992.
And although there are no official points for this, John was mentor and coach to so very many of us in TACRAO.
As one of our experienced colleagues told John upon news of his retirement "We often toil in the dark, making certain the train moves along on its tracks with full load. My image of you, in that dim light, is one in which you hold a light to show us all the path... not because you wanted to be important but because you knew the way before most everyone else and just wanted to help others."
For his contributions, vision, and professionalism to the association and friendships you made as he mentored others through the years, it gives me great pleasure to award John Edwards honorary membership in TACRAO.