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story.lead_photo.caption Kelli Embry, VP for Workforce at National Park College has her photo taken at the National Park College's Innovative Technologies Center near the industrial equipment she helped secure through a grant she wrote. - Photo by Grace Brown of The Sentinel-Record

The vice president for Workforce and Strategic Initiatives at National Park College is a position made up of numerous roles that require various skills. For Kelli Embry, the diversity that comes with the job is what she "loves most" about the work she does.

Before spending the past nine years on the staff at National Park, the Hope native transitioned into education and led students on a much larger scale at a college in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area. Her years spent in Texas provided gainful experiences that Embry emphasized helped in honing her craft.

Since making the "purposeful" move of relocating to Hot Springs, different and exciting opportunities have presented themselves, as has the desire to reside in the Spa City indefinitely -- a city she's come to love.

"I was actually hired to come here and be the director of Workforce. So (as for) the vice president position, I've been in that role for about the last four and a half years," Embry noted of her promotion. "But workforce is my passion; that's what I've done since I left corporate-America back in 2006 to go full-time into the education realm. I've always been on the noncredit workforce side of education. ... In my current role, for example, I work with our business and industry partners here in Garland County and the surrounding area, and we provide all sorts of customized training for them.

"The role that I have currently at the college is fairly diverse, which is what I love about it the most. My staff is a mix of people that work on a variety of grants, as well as people who work in the customized training field and other things. ... I think that Hot Springs is really important for the future of Arkansas, and I love the fact that I can be a part of that. As far as my role at the college, I love what I'm doing now; it's got a great variety, there's a lot of opportunities for me to take on new activities, and I always welcome that.

"Ultimately I'm going to do whatever else I can do to help our students."

In her experience, some have struggled to distinguish the workforce department from the school's career services division, but Embry admitted that there are objective similarities between the two as well as defining differences.

"Usually whenever I tell people my title they go, 'Oh so you get students jobs?' And I say no, ... but it makes sense," she added. "I mean, it's workforce and I work very closely with our career services because there's a lot of different areas in the college that support the businesses in our community; I'm just one.

"Everything through my division is noncredit, and we do all the fun classes like the pottery, sign language, and computer (classes). It's a wide variety of different classes that we do. We also have several grants that we work on. ... I'm an officer of the college so my cabinet-level responsibilities are for the strategic initiatives of the college. ... As you can see, I wear a lot of different hats and I like it that way. I like the variety; I get to learn something new every single day when I walk into National Park College so it's been a lot of fun."

After spending time in various regions around the world, Embry claims that the enjoyment and fulfillment of her life in Hot Springs are unmatched and not something she's willing to trade any time soon.

"After I graduated from Hope High School, I left. I remember I thought I'll probably never move back to Arkansas," she said. "I just didn't see myself back here (then) lo and behold 25 years later, I wound up back in Arkansas in Hot Springs. ... After my youngest child graduated from high school -- she graduated from ASMSA -- I kinda thought, you know, I could move anywhere I want now.

"I'm single and I'm free to do whatever I want, and then I stopped and I thought, 'I don't want to live anywhere else. I don't want to go (and) I can't imagine anywhere in the world that's better than Hot Springs.' Isn't that funny? And I've lived all over. I've lived in England, California, Virginia, and Texas, and there's nowhere quite like Hot Springs. It's got a great diversity of activities and I love the outdoors. I love to hike and I have my own ski-boat so I love to go on my boat."

A "passion for education in a rural, small-town" held by fellow comrades already employed at NPC is what ignited the inspiration to embark on the same journey, as well as the opportunity to have a stronger influence on the individuals Embry would eventually mentor. The satisfaction and long-term rewards of making positive, lasting connections with students that work through and thrive in their respective training programs are what she confirmed to be the most "rewarding" parts of the job.

"Sally Carter and Jill Johnson recruited me and I thought, 'I can't think of anywhere else in the world I'd rather be than in Hot Springs at National Park College working for the two of them,'" she said. "I worked at a very large, suburban community college that had 55,000 students. Now I'm at a college that has 4,000 so it's a significant difference, but I knew that my impact here would be more direct to my community, so that was really what attracted me the most to moving back.

"I was a small-town girl, so moving back to that small-town environment where the people's lives that I was able to touch at National Park College, I would see them in the grocery store the next day. I see people all the time that have gone through training programs and now have wonderful jobs, and are business and industry partners. It's just a very rewarding job to have. In Dallas you'd have students, they would finish and you'd never see them again ... that's 10 million people in Dallas. It's not that you're not doing good work, it's just so much more rewarding here because you see the fruits of your labors."

Embry expressed her commitment to National Park and the future of Hot Springs, noting Garland County's wide range of possibility and potential.

"I definitely moved to Hot Springs on purpose. Sometimes people find a job then move to a location; I found a location and then found the job. I love Hot Springs (and) to be honest, cannot imagine living anywhere else than Hot Springs. I love the people that I get to work with, I love the industry mix ... the mixture of the different kinds of employers we have here provides a lot of variety which is a lot of fun. I know that probably sounds nerdy to some people, but it's really cool to me!"

Go Magazine on 05/15/2020

Print Headline: NPC's VP of Workforce and Strategic Initiatives utilizes knowledge, expertise to forge lasting impact

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