“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders . . .” – Ralph Nader
Having just returned from the 14th Annual Achieving the Dream conference in Nashville, I have been thinking a good bit about leadership. Durham Tech has been a member of the Achieving the Dream network since its inception in 2004 and has been designated as a Leader College since 2009. There was considerable discussion at this year’s conference about the future direction of Achieving the Dream—how the network can adapt to new funding realities, provide meaningful support and services to member institutions, and the role and function of we Leader Colleges—institutions that have demonstrated ongoing commitment to improving student outcomes and provided evidence of improvement in one or more aspect of our work. So as our national network continues its self-examination, I have been pondering what it means to be a leader, both personally and as an institution. And in my pondering, I recall the words, found above, of Ralph Nader; of folks like Jack Welch who observed “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others;” or this quote by Tom Peters: “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”
Growing the next generation of community college leaders has never been more important than it is today. Study after study confirm the continuing trend of retirements of executive leadership on community college campuses across the country. In North Carolina alone, almost a third (19 of 58) sitting presidents have been in office for two years or less, while at this writing nine other institutions are either conducting or preparing to conduct presidential searches. Meanwhile, nationwide, the average age of college and university presidents is over 60, and a large percentage anticipate retiring within the next five years. All this comes at a time when the challenges facing community colleges have never been more complex. The lines that used to separate educational systems are becoming blurred, with more high school students dual-enrolling on the one hand and more community colleges offering the baccalaureate degree on the other. Constituents increasingly call on two-year colleges to prepare a new workforce using expensive, state-of-the art technology in advanced manufacturing, information technology, and allied health fields, even as public funding for colleges is reduced. Increasingly, college leaders must understand changing financial aid regulations, complex Title IX requirements, and immigration law, all while serving a more diverse student population—a population that must cope with food and shelter insecurity, mental health challenges, academic deficits, transportation and child care needs.
So what is the role of a leader—and of a leader college—in this environment? Well, to follow the guidance of Messrs. Nader, Welch and Peters, one role is to help develop the next generation of community college leaders. And to that end, Durham Tech has been successful for some time. As long ago as the late 1980s, Durham Tech has actively supported faculty and staff members who seek professional growth and development. For example, Dr. Augusta Julian, President of Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky, began her career at Durham Tech, and completed her Doctorate in Education Degree in Adult and Community College Education while employed as Special Assistant to the President. While serving as Executive Dean for Instructional Services, Dr. Clifford Harbour followed the same path. Cliff is now Professor of Counseling and Higher Education in the School of Education at the University of North Texas. And Dr. Pamela Senegal, President of Piedmont Community College, pursued her graduate studies at North Carolina State University while serving as Durham Tech’s Dean of Career and Technical Programs.
This tradition of growing tomorrow’s leaders continues today. Durham Tech’s faculty and staff includes several individuals who pursuing terminal degrees in higher education or related fields. Angela Davis, Special Assistant for Equity and Inclusion, and Scott Stauble, Instructor of Biology, are enrolled in the Community College Executive Leadership Program at Wingate University, while Abraham Dones, Assistant Dean for Student Information and Records is pursuing his doctorate in Higher Education Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Keyma Clark, a College Liaison in the Southern School of Engineering, is pursuing the PhD in Higher Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Oluwunmi Ariyo, a College Liaison at the City of Medicine Academy, is completing her PhD in Community College Leadership at the University of Florida. Jerry Oxendine, Coordinator in the LPN to ADN program, is completing his PhD in Nursing Education at Capella University.
North Carolina State University has been a strong and consistent partner with the North Carolina Community College System in preparing leadership for the state’s 58 community colleges. In the fall of 2017, as part of the Envisioning Excellence initiative, NC State established a cohort-based EdD program for community college practitioners, offered at Wake Technical Community College. Three of Durham Tech’s best and brightest future leaders are enrolled in that program. And by the time Kara Battle, Associate Dean for Science; Micara Lewis Sessoms, Assistant Dean for Business Technology Programs, and Jairo McMican, Director of Admissions and Advising complete their doctoral studies sometime in the 2020-21 academic year, they will be well prepared to provide even greater leadership in addressing the challenges facing Durham Tech and our sister community colleges. So as I reflect on the future of community colleges in our state and in our nation, I do so with a keen sense of pride in knowing that Durham Tech is helping grow the coming generation of leaders.