Written by Chuck Abadie
PRCC Communications Assistant
Ruby Smith said the director of adult education at Pearl River Community College was a dream. Her dream became a reality July 1.
“My ultimate goal was this position,” said Smith. “At 36, I did not expect to make director this soon. But when you are at the door of your ultimate goal, it is very fulfilling to see it come into play.”
Smith, a native of Lumberton, has been a part of the adult education – formerly GED – program at PRCC for 18 years now. She says she understands the challenges that come with being the director.
She oversees a staff of some 30 people, who are mostly instructors and support staff. She makes sure they are well equipped with the items they need. Her office is in Poplarville but she directs adult education programs in PRCC’s six-county district, from Hancock County to Jeff Davis County.
“I work with some amazing staff,” she said. “They are as excited about helping these people as I have been.”
Student target numbers are important when it comes to adult education. PRCC’s program ranks as one of the tops in the state.
“This past year, we had 1,500 people walk through our doors,” she said. “Right at 800 of them stayed and participated in our classes. We graduated 258 in May. We will graduate anywhere from 250 to 300 each year.”
Keeping students on track is a challenge because most of them come from different backgrounds, or from different family situations.
“So many of them come back to school to better themselves,” said Smith. “They are reaching for a better education or better jobs. I have had moms come back just to show their kids that they can come back and will not give up. It’s very rewarding, very fulfilling to see.”
Students may range in age from 16 to 87.
“I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve seen of single moms who have lost their children, gotten their lives back in order with us and they were able to get their children back,” she said. “Things in life happen to them, some are sad things.
“That’s why I tell people, we are not just here to help them reach their educational goals. We also serve as counselors. They have never had that encouragement. I’ve always said part of our job is to be cheerleaders. It is up to us to let them know their value to society.”
Students come from all walks of life, determined not to go down a path of despair.
“I had one student who got his diploma without much support from home,” said Smith. “He has a job now and he is doing fantastic. Everybody is different. Some had family illnesses that forced them to quit school and work to help the family. Then they find us when their lives are more balanced.”
The prospect of becoming an adult education director struck Smith early on, courtesy of her mom, Donna Lumpkin, and Dr. Sharon Ballou, who was teaching GED classes in Lumberton. She became an assistant teacher in 2001, helping grade papers and doing some one-on-one tutoring.
She continued that role while earning her associate’s degree from PRCC in 2004 and a B.S. in business administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in December, 2006. In January 2007, she became a fulltime adult education instructor.
“They worked around my schedule while I was in college,” she said. “At USM, I majored in marketing, but I always intended to stay in adult education. I just needed a bachelor’s to become full time.”
She has seen the adult education program evolve in many ways during her tenure.
“When I started, everything was paper and pencil, all the GED testing and the assessments” she said. “Then around 2014, the GED test became computer based. I remember it terrified the students, and the teachers as well because there were so many unknowns. We were all adjusting to the computer age.”
At the time, computers chased many students away from the program. As the adult education coordinator (2015-18) and assistant director of adult education (2018-19), she played a role in bringing the students back and increasing the number of graduates.
“Ruby has helped adult education evolve into a comprehensive program that continues to change the lives of thousands if Mississippians,” said Terri Clark, Dean of Workforce and Community Development at PRCC. “She is a humble, servant leader. With her experience, she can provide leadership to ensure this program remains one of the tops in the state.”
Smith, who is married with a 10-year-old daughter, has some goals in mind for the PRCC program.
“I want our program to exceed the state target each year,” she said. “We want a record enrollment and record number of graduates. We want students who start the program with us to stay with us. We do that by offering them a warm environment.
“These people really pull at your heart strings. I would like to see more of them go on to college, reach their education goals and provide for their families.”