Retiring administrator reflects on San Jacinto College’s history of workforce training

07.29.2014 | By Rob Vanya

Veteran San Jacinto College educator Dr. Gary Friery has a reputation as a pioneering administrator, playing key roles in launching and establishing many of the North Campus’ most successful technical, business, and allied health programs. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.

 

As San Jacinto College administrator Dr. Gary Friery prepares for retirement, his mission has remained constant since he first came to the College in 1970 – to help students improve their lives through education, and to improve the community by helping to provide a well-trained workforce.

“Since the start, San Jacinto College has been a pioneer and trend-setter in technical education and workforce training, and that mission remains as strong now as ever,” commented Friery, dean of business and technology at the North Campus. “Today in particular, because of the energy boom, there is a big need for a well-trained workforce. For example, the Houston/Galveston and North Dakota areas needs around 5,000 welders over the next seven years to help with new construction, and to maintain existing facilities. There’s also a big need for pipefitting fabricators and most other skilled-trade workers. Industries and businesses look to San Jacinto College to provide workforce training, and they want to hire our graduates.”

With 44 years of service, Friery ranks as one of the longest tenured San Jacinto College employees. His greatest reward has always been – and still is – hearing student success stories. “While out in the community, I recently met a graduate of our engineering design graphics program, and he is living in a nice home in a nice neighborhood,” he said. “He said he was so thankful for the training he received at San Jacinto College. It’s rewarding to see how a two-year degree can lead to a career that helps improve a person’s life.”

Friery said he has noticed in recent years a subtle shift in general perception about middle skills “blue collar” workers, such as welders, diesel, electrical and auto technicians, process technology operators, air conditioning repairmen, etc. “We are finding an increased interest and a changed attitude toward these types of jobs, many of which require only one or two years of college,” he remarked. “When people learn that, for example, a welding job can lead to a six-figure income in a short amount of time, that can change a person’s perception.”

Hired in 1970 as a drafting instructor at the San Jacinto College Central Campus, Friery moved over to the North Campus as a drafting instructor in 1974, when the initial buildings of the North Campus were still under construction. “In those days, Wallisville Road was just a two-lane gravel road, and Beltway 8 did not exist, so very few people in the community even knew about the North Campus,” he commented. “Faculty members and administrators had to really get out in the community and recruit at high schools to get the word out. But we kept at it, and now the North Campus is a major hub of the North Channel area.”

From 1977 to 1987, he served as technical arts division chair at the North Campus. From 1987 to the present, he has served in several key administrative positions – dean of technical education, dean of program development and institutional effectiveness, and dean of business and technology.

Through the years, Friery developed a reputation as a pioneering administrator, playing key roles in launching and establishing many of the North Campus’ most successful technical, business, and allied health programs, including paralegal, health information management, medical assisting, building trades (which is now the construction management program), environmental technology, international business and logistics, pharmacy technology, and the pipefitting fabricator program. “We were the first community college in the state to start a credit program in health information management,” he said. “We were the second community college in the state to offer a credit program in medical assisting, paralegal and in pharmacy technology.”

In order to continue meeting the area’s rapidly changing and continually expanding workforce training needs, Dr. Friery says San Jacinto College really needs new technical education facilities. “Most of the technical education facilities have reached their life expectancy,” he remarked. “Many of them are really cramped, so we need more space, and more up-to-date training equipment in order to keep up with industry trends and developments.”

Fittingly, Friery began his post-secondary education at San Jacinto College. He attended the original campus, located in renovated store buildings in old downtown Pasadena, for three semesters in 1962-63, taking core academic classes. He then transferred to the University of Houston, and then to Sam Houston State University (SHSU). Friery holds a BA in teaching, and a master’s degree in education from SHSU. He holds a doctorate degree in industrial education from Texas A&M University.

Colleagues describe Friery as a role model for educators. “Dr. Friery is an educator’s educator,” commented Dr. Charles Grant, former president of the San Jacinto College North Campus. “He knows more than most in the state about technical education and workforce development. On many occasions, representative from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board contacted him for his opinion. As president, I valued his counsel. He was at the college before I arrived in the morning and stayed after most of us had left for the day.” 

Dr. Richard Bailey, San Jacinto College vice president of accreditation and special initiatives, admires Friery for his flexibility. “Gary has an uncanny ability to work with different kinds of leaders and faculty with very different leadership styles,” Bailey said. “When I served as vice president for learning, he was a key dean and became someone I could rely on to always do superb work. He is smart, but also has a superior work ethic and great judgment. San Jacinto College will miss his leadership.”

Dr. Allatia Harris, San Jacinto College vice chancellor of strategic initiatives, says Friery leaves a legacy of excellence. “Gary is a really great administrator, and he has been a mentor to many,” commented Harris, who worked with Friery when she served as president of the San Jacinto College North Campus. “He was into data before data were cool. He cares about students, about faculty and staff, and about the economic health of programs. He loves San Jacinto College, and he invested here with his work and with his heart.”

After retiring in late August, Dr. Friery and his wife Lee plan to divide their time between their lake home, located on the shores of Lake Livingston, and their “Rattlesnake Ranch” (so named because of the many large rattlesnakes that have been found there), which is located near the South Texas town of Freer.

 

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 credit students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career and workforce preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College. For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit www.sanjac.edu, or follow us on Facebook.

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