NORFOLK, NE – Two finalists for the position of president of Northeast Community College visited the Norfolk campus this week.
Dr. Charles Nwankwo and Dr. Leah Barrett each spent a full day touring campus, spoke at two open forums and participated in in-depth interviews with the Board of Governors. The third candidate, Dr. Lenny Klaver, president of North Central Missouri College, was on campus last week.
During an open forum on Monday, Nwankwo, vice president of technology and business partnerships at Gilbert Community College (CGCC) in Arizona, said he has served in several capacities during his 24-year employment at the community college level.
“I must tell you this is an awesome position you guys have,” he said. “And all of the things I’ve done in community college has led me to this point. I’ve done everything in community college except be the president.”
During his employment at CGCC, Nwankwo has served as the interim vice president of academic affairs and interim vice president of administrative services. Previously, he was employed by SOWELA Technical Community College (LA) as the chief information resources and technology officer and held various staff roles at Houston Community College (TX). He also has 20 years of teaching experience as an adjunct instructor.
Nwankwo said he would concentrate on three areas that he feels are crucial at the community college level – student focus and access, human capital investment and community engagement.
On the path of a student in college, Nwankwo, himself a graduate of a community college, said, “The process should be easy. … The way we advise them, the way we put services around them, those are all the elements of success.”
Nwankwo was asked how his background as an immigrant from West Africa could help Northeast continue to build a welcoming culture to students from other countries and minority populations. It is not something one person can do, he said, but the good thing with education is that “people are ready to go anywhere as long as they get a quality education and feel welcome.”
He said, “We should be able to listen and agree, and agree to disagree and do so respectfully. Let’s do the best we can. Let’s be as caring as we can. Let’s be as open to the experience as we can and try to be nice to one another.”
Barrett, vice president for student affairs for the Northern Wyoming Community College District (NWCCD), began her first open forum by stating that community colleges do what they have to do to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to reach a level of happiness and fulfillment in their lives and employment prospects.
She said, “The success of our students isn’t just about if they complete - it’s about their experience, their opportunities to explore, their opportunities to meet professionals that do what they want to do. It’s about the staff who sit at the front desk and talk to students as they walk by and have that connection and provide that smiling face. You have that here.”
Barrett has 27-years of experience working in higher education. Prior to NWCCD, she served as the associate vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at The College at Brockport (NY), and has also been employed at the Arizona State University, Boise State University, Valparaiso University and, the University of Wyoming.
Barrett said there will be challenges coming into a new role. However, she sees more opportunities rather than obstacles at Northeast.
“I think the challenges may be more external than internal. How do we reach students? (Northeast) career and technical education facilities are amazing. How do we get students to understand that a year with us will get them an incredible job? And how do we reach and connect and help people in this region see what a gem they have in this institution?
Barrett also shared with the audience that she and her family experienced Northeast in a unique way prior to her name being publicly announced as a finalist. They came to Norfolk over Labor Day weekend when the College was closed so she could experience the institution without any biasness, in addition to discovering more information on its website. She liked what she saw and read.
“For my family, it’s about finding a place where we can thrive. A side of a community that’s not too big and not too small that has the support that is going to be given to my children, but the support that’s given to the students. A place where people can grow and develop and reach their full potential.”
Steve Anderson, chair of the Northeast board of governors, said the board would like to select a new president this fall with the successful candidate starting in January 2020. The new president will succeed
Dr. Michael Chipps, who retired in May. Co-interim presidents Mary Honke and Steve Schram, former Northeast administrators, will continue to serve in their roles until to the new president assumes office.