Finalists make their pitches to be NCCC president
SARANAC LAKE — The three candidates being considered for president of North Country Community College met with students and members of the community this week.
The candidates were selected by a search committee of college officials and local leaders, assisted by RH Perry & Associates, Search Counsel to Higher Education.
Introducing themselves in Hodson Hall, the candidates’ presentations were live-streamed to audiences at the Malone and Ticonderoga campuses as well. Attendees were encouraged to ask questions and fill out comment cards with their impressions of the candidates’ strengths, as well as any concerns they had.
Now that the campus interviews are complete, the NCCC Board of Trustees will meet with the finalists, select one from that group and ask the State University of New York Board of Trustees to approve the appointment after receiving the SUNY chancellor’s recommendation.
Current NCCC President Steve Tyrell will step down in June.
Stopping in from his office just down the hall on Monday, Joe Keegan, current vice president of academic affairs, was the first of the three to meet with visitors.
“I was a student at North Country starting in 1987, and I have spent the better part of the last 30 years in some way shape or form connected to the college,” Keegan said.
At the time, he said, he was waiting tables when a couple of regulars from the NCCC faculty suggested he consider enrolling.
“I was 27 years old, I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into, but what I got was an incredible academic experience,” Keegan said.
Two years at NCCC led to a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at SUNY Potsdam, which led to a master’s of anthropology at SUNY Albany.
“I left Albany, and I was going to dinner at the Foote Rest, which was on upper Broadway. It was a summer afternoon, probably mid-July,” Keegan said. “I was in between jobs — read that as being unemployed, but I had a master’s degree.”
He said a former NCCC faculty member stopped him on the street and asked him if he wanted to teach — it was then that Keegan landed a job as an adjunct, teaching an 8 a.m. class in anthropology at NCCC. He’s been at the college since.
“I feel like that experience that I’ve had, as a student, as an adjunct, as a chair, as a vice president,” Keegan said. “the knitting together of the relationships and building upon them, the working relationships I’ve had in the community with my faculty colleagues, has prepared me well to take this next step to serve the college.”
In terms of vision and enrollment, Keegan said he’d stick to the current path of the college — plugging gaps that have been brought to the college’s attention. An example he gave was the offering of an emergency medical technician degree program at the college, after hearing from Franklin and Essex counties that there was a shortage. He said the faculty has come forward in support of associate of occupational studies degrees, which are designed for the trades.
“Let’s see what fits the area,” Keegan said. “Where is there demand? Where is there need? Where are there students? Where is that within our skill set?”
He also pointed to current efforts by the faculty to attract adult students, with flexible, at-your-own pace education.
“Some combination of online, what we would call quarter courses, which are compressed seven-and-a-half-week offerings,” Keegan said.
Through this track, an individual could earn an associate’s degree in as little as 20 months, taking two courses per period.
“A lot of good work has been done by a lot of good people over the years,” Keegan said. “We have to be able to adapt and change with circumstances … but to my mind, a lot of it is around the margins.”
Sara Thompson Tweedy
On Tuesday, the current vice president of student access involvement at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, Sara Thompson Tweedy introduced herself to visitors.
“The key portions of my job span a wide spectrum of college programs, services and offerings,” Tweedy said. “In a word, my job is the marriage of student enrollment management and traditional student affairs, or student life.”
Tweedy said she has experience with rural small towns — having lived in similar settings nearly her entire life.
“What I bring professionally is a deep working knowledge of how rural communities work, how lean the operations are, and how important it is to try and maximize without depleting,” Tweedy said. “This is very important to me: to maximize, without depleting, the human potential — the human capacity that we have working amongst us, and living amongst us.”
Tweedy said she’s come up to the Adirondacks often — to hike and camp in the summers, and ski in the winter. She said her closest connection to the area came a few years back when a friend, a paddler in the Washington Club, asked Tweedy to be pit crew for her in the 90-Miler canoe race.
“The race ended just right here in Saranac Lake, and so being a community college professional, what did I do?,” Tweedy said. “I walked around your campus one afternoon, and on that day a seed was planted in my head and heart — that if the right thing came open, this would be the type of place that I would want to serve.”
She said NCCC is not alone in declining enrollment numbers. She said there’s a mass exodus of people out of the Northeast — saying that there are a number of four-year institutions closing in Massachusetts and Vermont.
“I think that there’s work to be done to attract adult learners to community colleges, especially,” Tweedy said. “and that requires more flexibility than most community colleges have shown.”
She said reversing a downward decline would be difficult in the next few years, but that focusing on retention and timeliness to program completion will be key pieces to stabilizing enrollment.
“If the college is showing that it is a good steward of the taxpayer dollar, if the college is showing that it is turning out students that are ready for the workforce, that are ready for a career, that are ready for their four-year transfer to college, then that’s inescapable,” Tweedy said. “That will go a long way towards helping the college be competitive in the environment that it is.”
Ron Cantor, current special adviser to the Maine Community College System, met with students and the community on Wednesday.
Cantor said he was the first of his family to attend college and loved it so much, he decided to spend his career trying to help others have the same experience.
After a few years with four-year institutions, Cantor made the switch to SUNY community colleges, where he said he could do more good.
“For eight years I was in Watertown, at Jefferson Community College as an associate dean for liberal arts, and then I taught U.S. history,” Cantor said.
Cantor said working in Watertown, and later in Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, prepared him for what it might be like here. After becoming president of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Maine, Cantor said the college constructed a branch campus in Brunswick, Maine.
“Again I had the multi-campus dynamic with different communities around the campuses,” Cantor said.
But since, he said his wife has been looking to move back to the New York, to be closer the Syracuse area, where her family and friends live, and the Adirondacks.
“For generations, my wife’s family has had a commitment to the Adirondacks, so almost every summer and winter vacation for the past 20 or so years,” Cantor said. “whether we’re in Maine, whether we’re in New York, we spent summer and winter vacations in cabins in the Adirondacks.”
He said the key to boosting enrollment for a community college is flexibility.
“We need human beings of any background of any age and any skill level, many of whom would never in a million years dream that they’d be a college student,” Cantor said.
He said the college can attract more nontraditional students by widening its net and breaking its programs into bite-size pieces that can be assimilated into the lives of working adults with families and other commitments.
“I think we’re still scratching the surface, and we have to be a lot more flexible to bring in more,” Cantor said. “If we’re going to have more enrollment, we’re going to have to find more ways to bring students in and bring more directions, on more levels with more paths.”