A President’s Passion for Continuous Learning

DI: What suggestions or strategies would you offer young female scholars who aspire to be college chancellors or presidents?
The first thing that I would suggest to them is to make sure that they understand what a great or an exemplary leader is and the skills needed to become one. I find that so often people get into positions of responsibility without really understanding what’s expected of them.

DI: What are some of those leadership skills that you refer to, especially ones that have helped you?
I think that it is important that a leader build trust. Oftentimes we come into situations where there is a new culture that exists. In order for you to be an effective leader and to operate within that culture, you have to build trust. We have to inspire a shared vision and inspire that vision in others about where we want to take the college. We should challenge the established process that is in place. You have to enable others to act; you want people to be motivated and empowered to do the things that they are charged to do. Good leaders should also possess a passion for continuous learning and a passion for creating and understanding the culture of evidence. So much of what we do is about making sure that when our students leave here, they are able to do what they need to do in the work force.

DI: What career benefits or opportunities have you gained in the community college system that you may not have acquired at a four-year institution?
The benefits for me have been the opportunity and the challenge to develop quality services and programs that benefit an entire group of students that fall along the entire continuum of academic preparedness; from those students who need remedial support in math, English, language, and writing, to those who are honor students. I just don’t think that I would have had this cross section of students if I had been in some other type of college. In the community college we’ve got probably the most diverse group of students compared to any other type of college in this country … the 18-year-old coming out of high school and who may have a child to the 60-year-old who may not have been working for 10 or 15 years, to the manager of a company who is coming back for refresher courses.

DI: What trends if any do you see emerging in the nation’s community college system when it comes to creating the next generation of female college chancellors or presidents?
Making sure that people who are aspiring to become community college presidents have individuals at the colleges to help them with leadership development and to make sure that they understand the importance of environmental trends. If you are really going to make a difference — and that’s what it’s about, making a difference — you’ve got to understand the environment in which you are operating. What’s going on in the country? What’s going on in the world, in the state that you are in, in the region and community that you are in? We (female chancellors and presidents) need to understand what is happening in the next 10 to 20 years and give that information to potential presidents and chancellors. And finally we need to make sure that prospective female chancellors and presidents are involved with a continuous leadership development program that trains them to become what we are.

DI: What are your top three goals for SOWELA Technical Community College?
I couldn’t narrow them down to three, I have four. We have only been a community college since 2003. Then Hurricane Rita hit us in 2005. So, I am actually in the process of transitioning from a technical college to a technical community college. We have a lot of work to do, but my top priority is to make sure that we create a simple but comprehensive strategic planning process. You can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t plan for it. I would like to double our enrollment. I think that the potential is here in the community to do that. I would actually like to build a new campus. The campus that we have is outdated.

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