Keith Gaskin took stock of his fellow contender Friday before speaking to the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.
“Thank you for bringing me in to compete against a heart doctor,” he said jokingly when he reached the podium. “I’m not afraid of a little competition, but come on.”
In the end, Gaskin needed not to worry. Supervisors appointed him and Dr. Richard Eubanks, a Columbus-based heart surgeon, to the East Mississippi Community College Board of Trustees.
Supervisors chose both men from among 10 applicants, and three finalists, to fill the county’s two vacancies on the college board. While Gaskin and Eubanks presented in person to supervisors Friday, the third finalist Andrew Appel — the plant Columbus manager for PACCAR who was not selected — did not attend but submitted a written statement.
“It’s a shame we can’t have all three,” District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders said before the final votes.
Gaskin will serve the remainder of Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins’ term, which expires in March 2023. Eubanks will serve the unexpired term of Aurora Flight Sciences director of development Greg Stewart. Higgins and Stewart announced their resignations as EMCC trustees in August
and September, respectively.
EMCC has a main campus in Scooba as well as three facilities in Lowndes County: the Golden Triangle campus in Mayhew, the Communiversity workforce training center on Highway 82 west of Columbus and Lion Hills Center on Military Road. The college’s board consists of two members each from Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, Noxubee, Kemper and Lauderdale counties.
During Gaskin’s presentation Friday, he touted his extensive work experience fundraising for both secondary and higher education institutions. He holds a doctorate in community college leadership and completed his dissertation on fundraising for those colleges.
“I’ve always had an appreciation for community colleges,” he said. “During my studies I learned that community colleges actually educate the largest number of students (in higher education) nationally, and they receive the least amount of funding from government and from private donations. That tells me their role is extremely important for society, but they get the least support.”
Gaskin said he has a strong relationship with EMCC president Scott Alsobrooks and felt he could build consensus among other trustees to keep the school’s mission student-focused. As mayor, he said, he also believes he needs to “sit at as many tables as possible” to move the city and region forward.
Eubanks moved to Mississippi in 2007 and worked on the coast before being recruited to Columbus in 2016. He studied at Stanford University, Case Western in Ohio and completed surgical training in Houston, Texas.
Both his work and his community service, he said, are centered on helping people. EMCC can be a particularly valuable tool in improving health outcomes in the region.
“Socio-economic status correlates with health care,” Eubanks said. “The higher the education somebody has, the better their health status is. So, if we increase the base level of education in Lowndes County and surrounding areas, … you’re actually increasing the health care of the people.”
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks nominated Eubanks. Sanders nominated Gaskin. Both nominees were accepted by acclamation.
After the meeting, supervisors’ president Trip Hairston told The Dispatch Eubanks’ expertise in the medical field would be invaluable to EMCC as the college continues to build its allied health studies program.
“I can’t think of a better fit,” he said.
Hairston said Gaskin’s professional and educational backgrounds were enough to appoint him. Gaskin also being Columbus mayor, however, adds credibility and “seriousness” to the appointment — especially Gaskin’s opportunities to network with other mayors in the region and bring their feedback to the board table.
“He has the right resume and the right passion to serve well in that position,” Hairston said.
In other business Friday, supervisors voted to hold a work session Nov. 1 to discuss priorities for American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.