Candid conversations with presidents

By Matthew Dembicki

Mineral Area College President Joe Gilgour connects with other college presidents during a YouTube series.

Lee Ann Nutt, president of Lone Star College-Tomball, Texas, didn’t know what she wanted to do in college, and even after graduating college she wasn’t so sure. After driving a tour bus for a while and returning home, she answered an ad in a newspaper for a job at a local community college. The entry-level position she eventually took at the college changed her life.

John Rainone, president of Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) in Clifton Forge, Virginia, also wasn’t sure what he wanted to study in college. He thought he would be an accountant since he enjoyed a bookkeeping class in high school. He focused to become a CPA in college for about a year and a half before changing his major.

Kimberly Beatty, chancellor of Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Missouri, thought she would go into her family’s barbecue business after a stint with a four-year institution in Baltimore where she taught adult basic education in a prison system. But a job at a community college set her on a new career path.

All three presidents discussed their journeys into community colleges and a whole more on a series of YouTube interviews hosted by Joe Gilgour, who is completing his inaugural year as president of Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Missouri. The series, called “Community College Presidents Talking About Community Colleges,” delves into an array of topics that challenge two-year college leaders, from handling issues surrounding the pandemic — such as campus safety and enrollments — to diversity, equity and economic mobility.

Learning from each other

Gilgour, who is a first-time president, says the idea for the periodic one-on-one interviews using Zoom originated with him wanting to learn from more-seasoned two-year college leaders, especially in how they are addressing the health pandemic and the challenges it has presented to colleges and their students. He tries to include a variety of colleges from across the country, noting that colleges have some common challenges as well as ones that are unique to their campuses and area.

“It’s an opportunity to learn from each other,” Gilgour says.

In the latest episode, Nutt of LSC-Tomball shared what she learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which caused catastrophic flooding and many deaths in Texas and Louisiana, and how some of those lessons apply to the pandemic. As a result of that experience, she knows that people are resilient and that communities come together to help in a crisis. She recalled when the local police chief called her around 10 p.m. after the monster storm to ask if her college could shelter displaced residents; she didn’t think twice and was calling for volunteers as soon as she was off the phone.

Amarillo College President Russell Lowery-Hart, meanwhile, outlined the extra hardships that at-risk students have faced during the pandemic. To help students who didn’t have access to computers or the internet and other supports during the campus closure, Lowery-Hart kept one building open to ensure they could do their work. And he took shifts on the circle desk, noting that he couldn’t ask other people to do it if he wasn’t willing to do it himself.

Gilgour says he’s inspired by how his guests find ways to celebrate students’ differences and to find the supports they need to succeed.

“All of them are so student-centered and so passionate about their students,” he says. “These people are doing really tremendous work.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Matthew Dembicki

edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.