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A Master Teacher Leads the Bronx Community College

Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph, President of Bronx Community CollegeDr. Carole Berotte Joseph, President of Bronx Community College

Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph, the new president of Bronx Community College, or BCC, has been training to lead an institution of higher education since grade school, taking on the role of master teacher since she played on her parents’ stoop with the neighborhood children in Brooklyn.

“Growing up, I didn’t play with dolls much. I played with real kids,” says Joseph. “Bad weather, snow, whatever, we’d line everybody on the stairs, and they would be my class. I loved to teach. And I loved the whole idea of organizing and taking charge.”

Joseph, who moved over to BCC in July from Massachusetts Bay Community College, or MassBay, is enjoying coming back to New York City, where she earned a bachelor’s from York College at the City University of New York, a master’s from Fordham University and a doctorate from New York University. Joseph became the first Haitian-American president of a U.S. college when she was selected in 2005 to lead MassBay.

“I am very happy about being back in New York,” says Joseph. “I was a student here. I was a faculty member at City [College] for more than two decades. And then I worked as an administrator at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx, so it’s a place that I know, and it’s a place that I love. It’s a place that I really understand.”

During her days as a college student, Joseph taught at a day care facility. She was then a bilingual (Spanish) elementary school teacher and a junior high Spanish and French teacher. She recalls helping a child read her first word. “When you see that connection occur, and they get it — it’s such satisfaction.”

Joseph was drawn to academia when she realized she would reach more students by teaching teachers. “In higher ed, I could have 30 teachers that I could impact,” she says.

She says that CUNY’s policies are still very much in line with her own values as an administrator. Deans and department heads had to have taught to reach those positions, she notes.

“I really believe in experience, and as experience being the master teacher,” Joseph says.

When she was appointed to her first presidency at MassBay in 2005, Joseph stirred up controversy by removing three deans and three associate deans in a reorganization plan. “When you make personnel decisions, you get a lot of pushback,” she says, defending her decisions. “I had to get the right people to make it work.” With accreditation authorities threatening the school, Joseph says she had to make moves quickly. One of the biggest issues she sees in academia is that, while many professors might be experts in their fields, they might not know a lot about teaching. At a community college where a lot of students come underprepared for higher education, pedagogy is critical.

“Teach them whatever way they come, and that is the philosophy I have as a college president. Our job is about teaching people from the point that you get them. It’s not about criticizing how they come,” says Joseph.

Every student has a strength, she says, and it’s up to the professor to take advantage of it. “How are they using the students’ strengths to teach their own discipline?” she asks.

Her goal in her first year as president is to refocus the faculty and staff to take actions to improve student outcomes and completion rates. In five years, Joseph would like to build BCC into a premier community college. She also hopes to get the school more involved with area businesses and national conversations in many areas.

“My vision is that we make a difference in everything we do in our communities and beyond,” says Joseph.

Dr. Jowel Laguerre, president of Solano Community College and the second Haitian-American to lead a U.S. college, says that, although Joseph got a mixed review from faculty at MassBay, what is most striking about her leadership skills is “her ability to transcend difficult situations into something positive for the college.”

“It is not an easy job, and we need to focus on the impact it has on transforming students’ lives,” he adds.

As a president, Joseph hopes to be active and visible on campus, carving out time in her schedule to chat with students and faculty on campus. Being open to people and listening are important as a leader, she says.

BCC is not facing accreditation issues, but Joseph says she will make changes as she sees fit. She removed the vice president of academic affairs and will be looking to fill that post by spring.

Early next year, Joseph also hopes to unveil a first-year experience program to get students involved early on. She also wants to revamp advising, orientation and scheduling to improve students’ learning experience.

BCC has learning communities that group together cohorts of students in several classes. “We know that when students kind of connect with each other, they develop relationships,” says Joseph. “We know that those relationships work because they support each other.”

Another initiative that has worked well at BCC is the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, which help motivated students from low-income families to earn an associate degree as quickly as possible. The programs are funded by the city and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity. BCC’s first cohort of ASAP students in 2007 had a three-year graduation rate of 50 percent, compared to a rate of 17.5 percent for a group of students that started that same year at the college.

ASAP students can take advantage of advisers, career development, internships, transfer counseling, tutoring, social and cultural activities, free textbooks, free MetroCards and loaner laptops. Block scheduling also is a key component. By scheduling several courses back-to-back on two or three days, students can manage their school and work and family responsibilities easier.

A new Complete College America report titled “Time is the Enemy: The Surprising Truth About Why Today’s College Students Aren’t Graduating … and What Needs to Change” reveals that block scheduling is one of the most effective tools in retaining students and boosting graduation rates at two-year schools. Twenty-seven technical centers in Tennessee have a graduation rate of 75 percent because of block scheduling.

“Those kind of classes make a difference because the student is not discouraged. The results are really good,” says Joseph of the ASAP program. “And CUNY wants to replicate it. Next year, we’ll probably enlarge that program.”

Whether it’s at a meeting or gathering, Joseph still loves to teach. “Everything I do, I still teach. I use every opportunity informally,” she says.

Another area where Joseph hopes to expand is the National Center for Educational Alliances and the Global Initiative at Bronx Community College. Growing up with friends and family of many nationalities, Joseph learned Haitian Creole, Spanish and French, along with English, an experience that has led her to value multicultural studies. She hopes to develop study-abroad opportunities for students and faculty at BCC, as she did at MassBay.

“Anything that will get our students to have some global experiences — whatever the country is,” says Joseph. “Business and industries tell us they want people who are global.”

Dr. Pamela Eddy, president of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges, says Joseph has been a leader in expanding international education at community colleges and that it’s a growing trend.

“Community colleges are fairly unique to the United States, and other countries are looking to us as models as they develop their higher education systems,” says Eddy.

As a Haitian-American who moved to the United States at 8 years old, Joseph has taken a leadership role in helping develop Haiti’s higher ed institutions, which include about 159 colleges serving 40,000 students, according to the Bay State Banner. Last fall, Joseph helped form the Consortium for Rebuilding and Improving Higher Education in Haiti, an international group of colleges and universities that has committed to developing infrastructure and providing training for colleges in Haiti. The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the country in 2010 destroyed the campuses of most of the 32 colleges surveyed in Port-au-Prince, according to the Bay State Banner. While CUNY has its own efforts underway to help rebuild higher education in Haiti, Joseph says, “I would love [for] Bronx Community College to get involved in the teacher education piece.”

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