Dr. Daria J. Willis, a rising star in the world of community colleges, has been selected as the next president to lead Howard Community College located in Maryland.
Willis—who is currently the president of Everett Community College in Washington—will become the first African American to lead the college in its 51-year history.
Nestled in between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Howard Community College has long been lauded for its innovative approach to learning and community and civic engagement.
Willis, who previously served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Onondaga Community College before taking the helm of Everett Community College in 2019, has long held aspirations of being a community college leader and was a 2017 Cohort fellow of the Thomas Lakin Institute for Mentored Leadership, an organization dedicated to training African American community college administrators for the presidency. In 2017, Willis was profiled by Diverse for her participation in Lakin.
“The board of trustees is excited to welcome Dr. Willis as the fifth president of Howard Community College,” said Christopher G. Marasco, chair of the Howard board of trustees. “The trustees were impressed with Dr. Willis’s energy and accomplishments, her commitment to students and their education, and her steadfast focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in her work. We look forward to working alongside her as she leads Howard Community College into the future.”
In a recent interview with Diverse, Willis said that honored and humbled to join Howard Community College. Still, the decision to leave Everett, she said, was not an easy one.
“It is definitely bittersweet and one of the hardest decisions that I’ve ever had to make professionally, especially when I informed my board,” said Willis, who noted that despite the challenges of leading a college throughout COVID-19, she is proud of her many accomplishments.
“We’ve had a renewed focus on our student parents,” she said, pointing to the construction of a $43.5 million learning resource center that will house a brand new children’s library and a state-of-the-art student parent study space. As the nation grappled with the coronavirus, Everett used Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) to provide free housing to over 100 students at the school’s residence halls.
Willis earned her Ph.D. in history from Florida State University. She holds a master’s degree in history and a bachelor’s degree in history education from Florida A&M University, a historically Black college in Florida.
“My educational philosophy has always been to focus on students and put them at the heart of everything you do, so I am incredibly honored to lead a college whose mission is providing pathways to success,” she said. “Community colleges are in the business of transforming lives of students and their families. As the next president, I commit to empowering the college and the Howard County community, inspiring innovation, closing the achievement gap among students, and advocating for social justice, equity, and education for all.”
Willis said that when she arrived to campus for her interview, she was struck by the genuine concern that the campus community has for each other and for the more than 14,000 students enrolled at the college. She is set to begin her presidency on January 10, 2022.
“A lot of time, presidents have to go in and try to change the culture. I won’t have to do that,” Willis said. “The culture is amazing, they’re very supportive and I don’t know what the future may hold, but what I do know is that when I get there, those folks are ready to be innovative and to charge right into the future and I know we’ll be able to do that together.”