Fairness Grounds Lisa Toland's Approach to Leadership at PTC

Lisa Toland admits she wasn’t very good when she played the clarinet in her high school band. The alto-voiced go-getter also claims to be on the tone-deaf side, even though she sings in her church choir. Regardless of that humble self-assessment, Toland is clearly making beautiful music at Piedmont Technical College (PTC) as its dean of off-campus academic affairs. 

“I think I was in band more for the travel and friendships that I made. My playing skills were not that good,” she said. “I’m just not that musical. I can read music, but I just can’t play it that well.” 

Toland has always been focused on relationships and says the most influential relationship in her life has been with her mom, Eliza. 

“My mother has been my inspiration for everything. She always encouraged me and told me to not give up. She also told me to be patient. Her faith rubbed off on me,” Toland said. “She made sure I was in church every Sunday. … I admired her work ethic. I would see her get up at 6 a.m. and fix breakfast, then go to work for eight hours, come home, and fix dinner. Still, she was there at all my parent-teacher conferences. She was a band chaperone. Everybody loved her. She was always cracking a joke and making people laugh.”

Her mother’s example laid the foundation for Toland’s approach to education. High priorities she holds dear are objectivity and fairness.

“I will never forget this. In 3rd grade, I got a bad grade. It wasn’t like me. I was usually a very good student,” she recalled. “My mom went to the school and met with the teacher. I watched her tell the teacher, ‘Lisa deserves the grade that she earned, but I know that is not Lisa.’ … My mom went on to tell the teacher to always treat me fairly. That has stuck with me, and it’s what I do with my students. I don’t judge them by their reputation and what people say about them. I ask myself, what are they doing in my class? I don’t pre-judge anyone.”

""Toland earned her master’s degree in political science with an emphasis on American politics from The University of Georgia and her bachelor’s in political science with a minor in history from Winthrop University. She also holds a certificate in higher education leadership from the University of South Carolina. She began her career at PTC 28 years ago as an adjunct instructor teaching a course in American government. Toland went on to serve as chair of the college’s History and Government Department, which evolved into the Social Sciences Department. 

Her experience with PTC’s county campuses began when she was named the off-campus program coordinator for arts & sciences. She later was named associate dean of arts & sciences, followed by her current role as dean of the county campuses. 
While she was in college, Toland did not dream of becoming an educator. Her early focus was on one day attending law school. 

“I never thought I would teach,” she said, “but I don’t know what I would be doing now if not for PTC giving a young novice an opportunity in the teaching field.”

At PTC, Toland also chairs the Open Education Resources Committee. Though she is on the road a lot, her office is located on the Newberry County Campus. For her exemplary service over the years, the college has bestowed on Toland its first-ever Visionary Award and its top honor, the PTC Presidential Medallion.

A Newberry native, Toland attends Renwick Grove Baptist Church, where she is Sunday school superintendent and adult Sunday school teacher. She also serves on the church’s executive board and safety committee as well as sings in the choir and serves as an usher.

Service comes naturally to the civic-minded Toland, who in 2006 and 2020 ran unsuccessfully for Newberry City Council. “I have been told the third time is the charm, but I don’t know what the future holds for me,” she said, adding that, over the years, her students have taught her the value of adjusting to the times and staying relevant. 



It only makes sense that admired women leaders who immediately come to Toland’s mind when observing Women’s History Month include Barbara Jordan, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973-1979, and Shirley Chisholm, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969-1983 (as well as secretary of the House Democratic Caucus from 1977-1981). 

While her parents themselves did not have the opportunity to attend college, they made sure that Lisa and her two siblings earned a college degree. 

“One of my father’s many sayings that I value every day is: ‘I will not be with you always. You have to learn to do things on your own.,’” Toland recalled. “That has helped me to step out on faith in many areas of my life.”

For Toland, the best part of her job is traveling to different campuses, seeing different students, and meeting new people across the college’s seven-county service area.

“I have the opportunity to do something different every day,” Toland said. And she is extremely proud to be a role model for others. “I have often heard people say, ‘I want to be like you.’ It’s humbling. They are watching me, and there is some quality that they see in me that they would like to have.”

During Women’s History Month, PTC is saluting a few of its own women of distinction.

PHOTO:  Lisa Toland gives a Black History Month seminar to Middle College students on PTC’s McCormick Campus in February.