As he prepares to take the helm, Joe Sumner, the New College Institute’s new executive director, emphasizes teamwork.  

Sumner, who’s currently serving as associate vice president for economic development at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, is scheduled to start in his new role on Feb. 28. In the interim, Sumner said he is preparing to move to the Martinsville area, where NCI is located, while mentally preparing for what he believes will be a crucial time. 

Joe Sumner. From LinkedIn.

“The initial months are going to be absolutely vital,” Sumner said. “I plan on submerging myself within the community. It’s important for me to really show the community that I am eager to be a part of the Martinsville-Henry County area. I understand there is a lot of responsibility and expectations that come with this position and I am going to work tirelessly to make sure I am putting my best foot forward … and I know it starts on day one.” 

In recent months, the NCI has been under something of a microscope as news of institutional dysfunction began to leak. A series of news stories by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Martinsville Bulletin last fall depicted an agency at odds with one of its primary funders, as well as concerns about employee salaries and the types of training that were being offered. 

Sumner said he is aware of many of the challenges he will face in his new role, but he declined to talk about the issues he is likely to confront as executive director. 

“I’m still early in this journey and although I’ve done a considerable amount of research, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to weigh in until I’m there and an active part of the team,” he said. 

Sumner said he is confident that his presence will make an impact but was also adamant about the importance of collective effort.  

“I plan to meet partners and stakeholders throughout the community,” Sumner said, maintaining that the work will require a team effort. “Working together, we can continue to grow and strengthen the Martinsville-Henry County workforce and economy for today, tomorrow and many generations ahead.”

He said it’s still too early to discern what, if any changes, he intends to make. 

“It’s a bit premature of me to say I would make significant changes,” he said. “It’s not the type of leader that I strive to be. While I certainly come with my own ideas for different initiatives and innovations, I’m not the kind of leader to make unilateral decisions. I believe in gathering input from the community, the stakeholders and the partners.”   

Sumner said this characterizes his leadership style, adding that he is confident that his professional experience has prepared him for his upcoming role. 

According to a news release from NCI, Sumner’s previous professional experience includes owning a mechatronics company and helping to develop a college and career academy for K-12 students in Georgia. He was hired by Wiregrass in 2018; previously, according to his bio on that school’s website, he was career and technical education department chair for THINC College and Career Academy in Lagrange, Georgia. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering disciplines and expects to receive a doctorate in leadership from Valdosta University this year, the NCI release said.

“I do see a significant amount of overlap in the experiences I’ve gained while working in economic development,” Sumner said. “Here in this college and other colleges I have also served in the role of … academic affairs so I feel that I have a pretty well-rounded background that has given me a lot of experience and lessons learned.” 

Sumner has also served in the U.S. Army, including during Operation Iraqi Freedom, when he was wounded. 

State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, who also sits on NCI’s board of directors, said he’s confident about the decision to appoint Sumner. 

“Joe is a perfect fit for NCI,” Stanley said. “His experience, energy, can-do spirit and overwhelming drive to succeed will make him a transformational leader for the institute as we move forward.”

Sumner agrees. 

“I am honored and humbled to be provided by this opportunity,” he said. “I don’t think any one individual can create change and can continue successes on their own. I am confident as a member of the team and the community that I can certainly put my best foot forward and continue to grow and learn together, building on those past successes. There is a great opportunity for everyone involved.”

Dean-Paul Stephens is a reporter for Cardinal News. He is based in Martinsville. Reach him at