With a career that began in 1986 as a part-time librarian at Moraine Valley Community College, Sylvia Jenkins has announced that she will be retiring at the end of June as president of Palos Hills College after 11 years.
Jenkins said she plans to spend more time traveling with her husband, Craig, and seeing their four daughters and 10 grandchildren.
“At least once a year we take an international trip, but there are places in the United States that we haven’t been to yet that we want to see,” she said.
The couple live in the Beverly community of Chicago and Jenkins’ husband is pastor of Beth Eden Baptist Church in the Morgan Park community of Chicago.
In an interview on Tuesday, Sylvia Jenkins, 71, said she would help with the transition to a new president.
Jenkins said she and other administrators, teachers and staff at Moraine Valley “have had to face challenges that no one has ever faced.
“No one has been through a pandemic before,” she said.
The college has seen a significant drop in enrollment, mostly among older students, but it is on solid financial footing and working to increase enrollment, Jenkins said. Offering dual-credit courses to high school students in the Moraine Valley District helps steer those students toward college once they graduate from high school, she said.
“It took a strong team that worked with me” to recover from the pandemic, Jenkins said.
She said enrollment had been flat over the past year and the hope is that by fall 2024 enrollment will rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re working really hard, trying to get people back to school,” she said.
Jenkins worked part-time for two years at the library, then moved into a full-time position in 1988. She became associate dean for teaching and learning in 2001, after Moraine Valley received a grant for create a center for teaching and learning, and provide professional development for college faculty and staff.
In June 2002, she was promoted to Dean of Academic Development and Learning Resource Center, where she served until her appointment as Vice President of Academic Affairs in April 2010. She began her term as the fifth college president in July 2012, succeeding Vernon Crawley.
Jenkins said it was Crawley, among others, who encouraged her to get her doctorate. Jenkins said she studied remotely through Colorado State University, earning her doctorate in community college leadership in 2008.
Crawley served as president of Moraine Valley for 21 years and was named president emeritus after his retirement.
“He transformed the physical presence of the college (through expansion) but also our culture, where people felt welcome, students felt welcome, people who work there felt welcome,” said said Jenkins. “I think my greatest achievement is that this culture still exists.”
She said that after she took over as president, Crawley told her he was just a phone call away if she needed advice on getting the job done, but “said he wouldn’t tell me. wouldn’t say what to do”.
“That first year, I called him a lot,” Jenkins said.
She said she would make the same offer to whoever succeeds her.
Joseph Murphy, Moraine Valley’s longest-serving trustee and chairman of the board when Jenkins was selected as president, said in a college news release that he knows she is the best choice to move the college forward.
“Dr. Jenkins immediately set to work building on the legacy of President Emeritus, Dr. Vernon Crawley,” he said. “More than a decade later, she can proudly boast of her own accomplishments as a leader, colleague and friend.”
Moraine Valley said it would begin a nationwide search in the coming weeks to find a successor to Jenkins.
“The Board appreciates the positive working relationship we have had with Dr. Jenkins. Her dedication to the students, faculty and staff of Moraine Valley is evident to everyone she meets,” said Brian O’Neill, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, quoted in the press release.
In 2017, she received a scholarship in her name through the Moraine Valley Foundation. The Dr. Sylvia M. Jenkins Female Leadership Fellowship supports the educational goals of future female leaders.
Jenkins is also a member of the Council of Presidents of Illinois Community Colleges and the Illinois Community College Board, where she said she will remain after her retirement.
Jenkins said she and her family moved to the Chicago area in 1986. She earned her master’s degree in library science and worked as a librarian in Richmond, Va., before the move.
His children were young at the time and the part-time job in Moraine Valley suited him well.
“I was able to work while being home as needed for my kids,” Jenkins said.
Her children are adults, two of whom live on the East Coast, one in Texas and one in the Chicago area, she said. They, along with the couple’s 10 grandchildren, “are my impetus to retire,” Jenkins said.