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Middlesex Community College begins public round of interviews with presidential finalists

Maricopa County Community College District Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Felicia Ganther, one of five finalists to be the next president of Middlesex Community College. (Courtesy photo / Middlesex Community College)
Maricopa County Community College District Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Felicia Ganther, one of five finalists to be the next president of Middlesex Community College. (Courtesy photo / Middlesex Community College)
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LOWELL — The Middlesex Community College Board of Trustees kicked off the first of its interviews with its five presidential finalists Monday morning, beginning with Maricopa County Community College District Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Felicia Ganther.

Ganther opened her interview by discussing her family’s impact on her personally and professionally.

She said her grandmother, who went from indentured servitude to building planes for Boeing and Cessna, “taught me that there was nothing too low for me to do, but at the same time, there was nothing too high that I should fear the ability to go forward.”

Ganther’s mother, who was a public school teacher of over 40 years, decided to go into special education when Ganther was deemed to need an individualized education program in elementary school.

She said her mother made it a personal challenge to serve “the forgotten students” and taught her that she should “be the person that is willing to plant the seed of greatness in someone who thinks that they are not good enough, that they are not college material, that they do not have a gift that’s within them that they can cultivate and share with the world.”

Ganther said she has studied and worked in institutions serving a variety of populations from historically Black to predominantly white, and brings a breadth and depth of experience to the presidency. She said she has also taught at least three classes per semester for much of her career, “because I want to make sure that all of my experiences help me to be the best educator, the best administrator and now the best president that I can potentially and possibly be, so that I can ensure that I am planting those seeds of greatness in every single student” that she encounters.

If selected, Ganther said her top priorities at MCC would be to improve its website, which she called the “front door to the institution,” and develop good relationships with the faculty and the campus community as a whole. She said she would also work to better market and brand the college and enhance career and technical education partnerships that lead to jobs for students, as well as initiate a technological assessment to ensure MCC can serve students in different modalities and “close the digital divide.”

In discussing enrollment and retention, Ganther said it’s important to address the challenges that are preventing people in the community from entering degree programs or otherwise furthering their education, and that may mean devoting additional resources to support targeted groups.

She said MCC has a large population of part-time students, many of color, who take an extended period of time to get “to the graduation line” and are more likely to give up if they can’t see the end in sight. To address that, Ganther said she would find a way to celebrate milestones for these students to keep them engaged, and make sure MCC is offering shorter programs that keep students enrolled year-round.

To assist nontraditional, adult learners who may struggle with the traditional class schedule, Ganther said she’d like to bring an idea she’s been working on at Maricopa, to offer accelerated degree programs with weekend classes, that provide an exact roadmap of what these students need to reach completion.

For students and faculty impacted by racial and social justice issues, she said the college needs to provide a space for those conversations, but it also needs to be a “solution driver,” and provide people with the tools to be effective citizens who can impact change.

Fiscally, Ganther said there would be “no secret doors,” “no hidden cabinets,” and in times when budget reductions may be necessary, she would be open and upfront with employees and seek their input and ideas on how to address the situation, much like she did when Maricopa was forced to look at both 3% and 6% cuts this past year. To maintain morale, she said she would not do across-the-board cuts or cut employees, and instead look to other areas of the budget to find savings.

For fundraising and development, Ganther said she would be the face of the institution and work to create innovative programs with available pools of money. She gave the example of grant funding that was sitting for years at the Arizona Community Foundation from a donor who wanted the money to be used for something related to dogs. Ganther said she and her team found a way to use it, developing a program centered around service animals for veterans.

Finalist interviews resume Wednesday with Santa Fe College Vice President for Assessment, Research and Technology Lisa Armour, followed by San Diego Community College District Vice Chancellor for Instructional Services and Planning Stephanie Bulger on Friday.

Next week, Julie Leidig, provost at the Loudoun Campus of Northern Virginia Community College will be in on Monday, followed by MCC Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Phil Sisson on Wednesday.