November 30, 2023
Ed Massey is a Florida Icon

Photo: Thomas Winter

Ed Massey: President, Indian River State College since 1988, with plans to step down in August, Fort Pierce; age 73

Ed Massey is a Florida Icon

President, Indian River State College since 1988, with plans to step down in August, Fort Pierce; age 73

Art Levy | 5/27/2020

It’s hard to figure out sometimes how you end up where you end up. But this was a good path for me, a fantastic path, and I hope it was a good path for everybody I worked with. I’m emotional about leaving this place. I know it’s a cliché, but this really hasn’t been a job to me. It’s been a lifestyle.

I don’t treat failures as failures. If something doesn’t work, try something that will. Just figure out a way to get it done.

For a long time, the college was reactive. If a company showed up, we’d go visit them, find out if they needed some training, that kind of thing. I wanted to be proactive. That means you put in some programs that will actually attract businesses to help build the economy.

My wife and I have been married 54 years, and we still like each other. I tell the story about meeting her at a teenage dance in Laurel, Miss. I saw her across the dance floor and asked her for a dance — and we’ve been dancing ever since.

What got me interested in marine biology was watching Jacques Cousteau on television. It looked so wonderfully pleasant out on the water. There were no high waves or thunderous stormy weather situations. It was just perfect. In graduate school, I spent up to maybe six weeks at a time on the water, where you never saw the land, and I found the Jacques Cousteau story was not all true. We got into some really rough weather, when the apex of the wave was way above the boat.

I’d been teaching six years. The president (Herman A. Heise) came to me and asked the oddest thing. He asked if I would like to become the director of the police and fire academy. I said, ‘Dr. Heise, I’m a biologist. I don’t know anything about police and fire training.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. I’m not picking you for that. I like the way you work with people. I think you may have a future in it, and you can learn the stuff you need to learn.’ And that’s how I got into administration.

I had to go over to St. Pete. In order to get there from here, it’s State Road 60, the Polk County Parkway, hit 1-4, then I-275. Wow! The end of the parkway was filled up. I-4 was filled up. I-275 was filled up. I thought I’d never get to St. Pete.

Lecture is the worst possible way to teach. Most learners are not auditory learners. They’re visual or they’re tactile. The studies show that. So how do you adjust and do the professional development with the faculty to actually get those kinds of techniques in the classroom? We’ve done a lot of work on that and a lot of our faculty, when they change and see better outcomes, they get really excited.

My wife and I drove to my job interview here in 1973, across State Road 60. Well, 60 in 1973 was a very narrow little road. It was night and pitch black and you couldn’t tell what was on either side of the road. We were in our VW bug, un-air-conditioned, and it was so dark I didn’t know if we’d end up driving into the swamp and the gators. Well, we got about halfway across, and I looked over at my wife and she had tears running down her face. I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And she said, ‘Where are you taking me?’

We won the Aspen Prize last year. It takes a long time to do that. You need time to develop the consistency to really have continued improvement built in and coached into the programs. But I’ve had to reinvent myself several times along the way and change my leadership style.

In 1988, when I became president, we had to correct some procedures and standards. We made the college a good college. But what I didn’t realize was that all the rules, regulations and standardization had cleaned the college up — no audit criticisms anymore — but the numbers were not increasing. The needle was not going up on retention, graduation, placement, salaries, all those kinds of things that you use as good outcomes. Then I had this realization in 2000. Managing is about good processes and procedures, but leading is about moving emotions. It’s about moving people to a higher level. So this was one of those times when I had to change my leadership style and go more to a mentoring style versus an autocratic style. We started working very hard on changing our culture, changing the way we supported people, changing the way we praised people, changing the way we work with people. When we got the culture right, when we created creativity and inquiry, that’s when the numbers started rising. That’s when people got happier.

I hope legislators always understand the importance of community colleges. Everybody’s looking for workforce. Everybody’s looking for trained people to do the jobs of today. To stay abreast of the changes in the workplace means we have to change our technology and manufacturing programs. And that requires funding.

There are a lot of things that don’t taste as good as they used to when I was young, but tomatoes in Mississippi, that was a big crop and those were some really nice, juicy tomatoes.

Florida has the best college system in the nation. There have been seven Aspen schools since the beginning of the Aspen awards. Four of the seven are in Florida. That shows a lot about our system.

Students will say, ‘Why do I have to take this course?’ If you don’t have an answer to that question, you shouldn’t be teaching.


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