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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. Donna McDaniel Photo by Submitted to the Texarkana Gazette / Texarkana Gazette.

Dr. Donna McDaniel, chief academic officer and vice president of instruction at Texarkana College, said she is humbled and honored to have received one of the top college administrator awards in the state.

On July 19, she was given the prestigious Carl M. "Chessie" Nelson Administrative Leadership award during the summer meeting of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, held in Horseshoe Bay, Texas.

"I was really overwhelmed. I had no idea I was receiving the award until they called my name at the ceremony," McDaniel said. "I am humbled and honored. Everything I do is as part of a team. We have all worked together and I truly don't feel like it's my award. It's due to all the wonderful people I work with and I sincerely mean that."

McDaniel was selected from 50 administrators across the state who were nominated for the award, which is given to those who represent the legendary leadership qualities for which Nelson is remembered statewide.

Nelson served as the fifth president of TC from 1975 until his sudden death in July 2001. He was known as a powerful and influential leader throughout the Texarkana community and was a positive force for community colleges in Texas. During his tenure, TC's student enrollment and campus footprint grew exponentially and so did support from the state. Nelson took many trips to the state capitol to visit with legislators about the critical role community colleges play in building a skilled workforce. In 2003, following Nelson's death, TACC established the award to pay tribute to his legacy and to honor community college administrators who embody similar leadership traits.

TC President Dr. Jason Smith, who nominated McDaniel for the award, said that she has gone above and beyond to help him during his transition to the presidency and that she leads through example and shares her passion for the support of student learning and success.

"We are very honored to have Dr. McDaniel as part of the TC family and it is evident every day that she exemplifies the same commitment to success that 'Cheesie' Nelson established during his time as president at TC," he said.

McDaniel joined the TC administrative staff in 2013 during a time when the college was just starting to emerge from near financial ruin. Since then, the leadership teams have worked to create a culture of success, as the college now has the highest graduation rate of all the state's community colleges. TC also received the 2018 Leah Meyer Austin Award for Student Success from the national Achieving the Dream foundation for their high completion rates.

"I am being recognized for things basically the whole college has done together," McDaniel said. "I'm just one piece of the puzzle."

She said that when she attended TC, she was not an engaged student and that she was just like everyone else who drove 30 miles from her home in DeKalb, went to class and then went to work a 40-hour per week job at the mall. She did, however, meet Dr. Nelson during that time and remembers his leadership.

"The fact that I did meet Dr. Nelson and did know who he was, to be given an award in his honor—he's a legend," she said. "It's just humbling and just a wow. I'm speechless."

McDaniel also thanked not only Smith, but also former TC President James Henry Russell for his leadership, along with all those on the leadership team.

"Every level of leadership I have been at, I have only been successful because of the people around me. God has blessed me with great leadership teams in all I have done."

She also thanked her family, which she says has supported her throughout her career.

"It's hard to be a wife, a mother and to be a leader and I could not have done it without my parents helping me with my kids when they were growing up," McDaniel said. "My parents believed I could conquer the world and I did not see it at the time. I have the best parents in the entire world. Also my husband and my sons respecting me and pushing me to be better is something I cannot thank them enough for."

She added that when she began in the TC administration role, people were willing to step up and train her and that she continues that tradition.

"I have amazing people who work here. I was hired not knowing anything. So many people stepped up to train me and teach me," she said. "I train them because someone helped me. I hope we can continue to do great things and put TC on the map because it's about helping our students. I work at TC because I want to make a difference in the community that I have always lived in and will continue to live in. This is my home."

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