May 29, 2012|
Chancellor, West Virginia Higher Education Commission
By Jennifer Nugent
Growing up in Sterling, Virginia, Brian Noland decided at an early age that he wanted to be a doctor. As an athlete who broke a lot of bones, he was impressed by the way his physician, Dr. Lawrence Cohen, could make his pain go away. “No matter how bad I hurt, he could always make it feel better, and I wanted to be able to do the same,” Noland says of his early decision to go to medical school. In high school, however, his basketball coach, Joe Cochran, encouraged him to pursue a career in public service. “He always used to say, ‘Through helping people you find yourself,’” Noland remembers, “and that has always stuck with me. It’s amazing—the impact an individual can have on your life. He recognized in me a desire to help other people, he encouraged me and it took on a life of its own.”
Before there were ever talks about medical school or public service, though, Noland got his first taste of the business world in the fifth grade. He began cutting neighbors’ lawns, an endeavor that quickly evolved into Noland Mowing Services. “I realized in high school that there were a lot of businesses developing in our area. I started knocking on doors, asking them who was cutting their grass, and I found myself working through the bidding process for these businesses.” The company continued to grow and Noland used his profits to pay his way through college.
In addition to his doctor and his high school coach, Noland has been blessed to have several other key individuals in his life, giving him career guidance. Noland worked under Rich Rhoda, the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and remembers, “He gave me a lot of opportunities to make mistakes and fail, and then he would pick me up and say, ‘Here’s the lesson learned from this mistake.’ He spent 10 years preparing me to leave the nest, per say, and I owe everything to him.” He also credits Bob Levy, the vice president of Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Grady Bogue, the former chancellor of Louisiana State University, with aiding him with the tools needed for success.
The job never stops for Noland, who finds motivation in his desire to ensure that more West Virginians have the opportunity to go to college and who considers his greatest success to be his four-and-a-half year-old son Jackson. The importance of finding the time to spend with his young son is something his father taught him when he was a child. He cherishes his memories of going fishing with his father on the Potomac River and the time his father, a busy professional like himself, dedicated to him. “My dad was pretty busy, so looking back, the time we spent together, uninterrupted, was treasured and valued more than I realized at the time. Part of it was just that connection we had and the fact that a skill was being passed down across generations, but looking back, I think it’s as much the time I spent with him because in hindsight you wish you had some of that time back.”
When you ask him what he does to relax or have fun, Noland may tell you he follows Washington Bullets basketball (yes, the new name is the Wizards, but he will always refer to them as the Bullets), but more often than not his answer is work. “For me, my job isn’t work as much as it is a love and a passion. I enjoy problem-solving and being able to say that I’ve helped people. At the commission, our goal is to provide financial aid assistance and prepare students to go to college. If, at the end of the day, you have success stories about students going to school because of something you did, that’s far more rewarding than almost anything.”