Bill Pence: Workforce Solutions leader taking well-earned retirement ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
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Bill Pence: Workforce Solutions leader taking well-earned retirement

Pence with award
Bill Pence, left, with Virginia Community College System Chancellor David Dore at the 2023 Hire Education Conference.

Considered one of the best in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) – and in the nation – Laurel Ridge Workforce Solutions Operations and Registration Director Bill Pence is retiring following a long career of service and education. He has spent the last 19 years – and about 20 years total – at the college.

“Bill is the ‘godfather’ behind so many of the systems and processes which support our students,” said Jeanian Clark, vice president of Laurel Ridge Community College Workforce Solutions. “He has an exceptional heart for serving our customers, the students, and removing all barriers and obstacles impeding prospective students from engaging with the community college.”

Flexibility and putting the customer first is key, according to Pence, who recalled some of the odd hours Workforce Solutions has kept in order to deliver career training.

“One thing I learned from being in the industry is when I go out and do training for companies, they want something they can use right away,” he said. “We have delivered training at all times. I’ve done training at 1 o’clock in the morning because that’s when the company needed it. We are going to meet them wherever they are.”

A lifelong Woodstock resident and a Central High School alum, Pence graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in industrial arts education – it would be known as technology education these days – and started his career teaching shop at John Handley High School in Winchester. He stayed there for seven years, teaching woodworking and printing.

From there, Pence segued into a print-focused career. He owned his own business, Valley Graphics, in Woodstock for 10 years and then came to Laurel Ridge for about 18 months to start the printing degree program. At the time, the college had a printing press. After that, he left for a training role with Perry Judd’s, a national periodical printer in Strasburg, for 10 years.

In 2005, Pence was back at Laurel Ridge, this time for good.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have done lots of things,” said Pence. “Every job I’ve had, I’ve enjoyed, and I’ve had something I have taken away from it that I’ve used at a later time. I feel like I’ve always used my degree from the time I got it.”

And, he’s used it well. Clark noted that Pence was a “fearless advocate” in ensuring the college was the first in the VCCS to pilot the Workforce Enterprise System, which provides incoming students an “Amazon-like experience,” in 2009.

“Students were not able to browse workforce courses or register online prior to this technology breakthrough for the VCCS,” said Clark. “Bill helped to create the business justification and designed the support mechanism to launch the product, which three short years later was implemented system wide across the VCCS.

“Additionally, Bill was instrumental in supporting the first FANTIC pilot in the VCCS – the state’s first financial aid program for noncredit courses. He was instrumental in developing the system-wide student application forms, processes, and procedures for the FastForward program launch and implementation. During COVID, Bill’s expertise in making complex matters navigable came to the rescue again with developing processes, forms, and best practices adopted by the VCCS for the return-to-campus protocols, testing protocols, and disclosure and COVID-mitigation policies.”

Pence’s contributions to Laurel Ridge and the VCCS were recognized last year when he received the Hire Education Conference’s biggest honor, the Chancellor’s Expanding Opportunities Award. This past May, he received Laurel Ridge’s Distinguished Administrator Award.

In 2018, LERN (Learning Education Resource Network), which is an international professional organization for continuing education and workforce program advancement, recognized Pence as one of the Top 3 Best Operations Directors of colleges within North America. The organization has consistently ranked Laurel Ridge’s operations team in the top 3 since then.

Pence, a longtime member of Rotary and community volunteer, said his coworkers are what he will most miss about the college.

“We have such a great department and such great people,” Pence said. “I think that’s going to be the hardest thing for me to walk away from. I feel like we have one of the best teams now that we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve made some great strides. Our department has been nationally recognized.

“I think that Jeanian is just a fantastic leader, and I think she’s a role model for the VCCS. She has put us in a place where other community colleges in Virginia look up to Laurel Ridge as a leader of the workforce programs.”

And, of course, it’s always satisfying to hear from former students.

“A lot of times we will have students come back and tell us how we changed their life,” said Pence, who spent 15 years on Woodstock Town Council and four years on the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors – one of those years as chair.

Pence isn’t sure what his next moves will be, although he might like to continue some part-time work with the college or the VCCS.

“I’m not really a stay-at-home person,” he said.

In fact, he’s going on a return trip to Italy with his wife, Mary, a retired school teacher, and friends in October.

“I have a woodshop in my garage that I would like to tinker in and do some things,” said Pence. “And, I enjoy my grandchildren.”

A father of three, Pence has nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“I thoroughly enjoyed these 20 years with the community college,” Pence said. “I’ve worked with some fantastic people, and I really appreciate the support we’ve been given over the years. I’ve worked with three great college presidents.”

He’s also pleased to see the trades earn the respect of society as a legitimate career path with advancement opportunities and good salaries.

“I think the most rewarding thing for me is seeing a change in the public’s attitude regarding the trades,” Pence said.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.