Making Piedmont a better place: A look a the life of Piedmont’s President


Features Editor

Between replying to over 200 emails a day and still finding time to teach, President James Mellichamp is one busy man. 

After growing up in Toccoa, Ga., graduating from Toccoa High School and further pursuing his education at Huntingdon College in Alabama, studying two years in Germany and finishing with his Ph.D. at Indiana University, Mellichamp has had many unique experiences. 

Mellichamp has worked at Piedmont College for over 33 years. He started with being the first and only professor in the Music Department. After years of teaching, he moved began working with administration and became the head of Fine Arts Department. Around 1998, Mellichamp became the Dean of Arts and Sciences.  

While Mellichamp was making his way through Piedmont and finding his niche, he also served as the Vice President for Academic Affairs. Mellichamp served in that position for about fifteen years. As part of this position, he worked with various departments, including the business office, financial aid and the library.

“I had never thought of being president,” Mellichamp said. “We had a situation four years ago when a new president was brought in, and things didn’t work out. The Board of Trustees asked me to serve as interim president. After a few months of that, the Board asked me to consider staying on in a permanent basis. I’ve just finished three years as president, starting my fourth year.”

Mellichamp is very passionate about the organ. Not only does he play the instrument, but he also provides lessons to students weekly. Mellichamp was told at a young age that in order to be a proficient organ player, he needed to master the piano. 

“I started taking piano lessons when I was young and, then, started taking organ lessons. That’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do in terms of college. I have three degrees in organ and music, and I still teach”, Mellichamp said. 

Although Mellichamp wears many hats, his main job in the day-to-day operations is to act on behalf of the Board of Trustees. 

“I’m like the chief executive officer of a business. I have people that help me, like the vice president and college chaplin. The board leaves it up to me to see that the institution is doing well in many ways,” Mellichamp said. 

He continued to say that he makes sure Piedmont is delivering a high quality education with an attractive cost to the students that attend. He also makes sure that Piedmont is on a good financial standing since we are non-profit. 

“One of my biggest jobs as president is fundraising,” said Mellichamp. “Piedmont is a private institution, so, unlike big universities, we don’t receive any money from the federal or state government. I spend a lot of my time working with alumni, friends of the college, trustees and foundations and encouraging them to participate financially.”

Mellichamp said that the people he works with keep him motivated, relying on those around him to help with day-to-day processes. 

He explained that he feeds off the positive energy of those around him. Collectively, he and his team work to make Piedmont as successful institution. 

When asked what his least favorite part of being president is he answered with, “When something goes wrong, there is no one else to blame but me.”

A lot of people come to him with advice on something they’re working on or wanting his advice on something. Mellichamp said, “One of the things I’ve learned in administration over many years is you can’t be paralyzed by the fear of making a bad decision. There is almost no decision that can be reversed, corrected or improved.”

When Mellichamp isn’t replying to emails, answering questions, solving problems or teaching his organ students, he loves to travel. He said, “Once you’ve traveled, your sort of bitten by that bug.” He also likes to read and spend time with his dogs, Mamie and Lola. He also loves cruises, he says that it’s a way to travel and see something new everyday without being in a car staring at a GPS. 

Mellichamp said his best advice for college students is to not get hung up on thinking students have to figure it all out and find a career in just four years.

 “If you would have asked me in 1975 when I finished my undergraduate work what I though my career was going to be, it would have never included doing something like this or even having this conversation with you today,” he said. “That’s the beauty of a liberal arts education, like you are here at Piedmont, yes you can focus on your passion, but you also get a broad understanding of history and science and how the world works and all of that. You have to be open to new opportunities that come along.” 

With over 30 years spent here at Piedmont, some may be curious as to what keeps him here. He simply answered with, “The people. When I came here 33 years ago. I felt like Piedmont was a diamond in the rough. That with attention and the right people working together, we could be polished and shine and be something very special We’ve made huge strides in helping piedmont to become a stronger institution and to be more well-known. There is still a lot of work left to do and I am really enjoying doing that.”