Armour makes her case to lead Middlesex Community College

Lisa Armour in Wednesday

Santa Fe College Vice President for Assessment, Research and Technology Lisa Armour, one of five finalists to be the next president of Middlesex Community College. (Courtesy photo / Middlesex Community College)
Santa Fe College Vice President for Assessment, Research and Technology Lisa Armour, one of five finalists to be the next president of Middlesex Community College. (Courtesy photo / Middlesex Community College)

LOWELL — The Middlesex Community College board of trustees continued its interviews with its presidential finalists Wednesday, welcoming Lisa Armour for a day of Zoom sessions with different campus groups.

Armour, vice president for assessment, research and technology at Santa Fe College in Gainsville, Fla., is the second of five finalists to be interviewed for the opportunity to succeed retiring President James Mabry.

Armour described how she began her career as a computer systems designer by day and community college adjunct professor in the evening. She said the latter became her true passion, leading her to become a full-time mathematics professor at Florida’s Valencia College before moving up to administrative roles.

“I do believe that community colleges are the nation’s most powerful means for achieving social and economic mobility that is shared and enjoyed by all members of our communities, and that’s the reason that I’m so passionate about my work,” Armour said.

Armour said she first came to know MCC by leading a Valencia team to participate in a Carnegie Community of Practice around the scholarship of teaching and learning that was led by a psychology faculty member from MCC. She said that experience contributed to her desire to become a dean of mathematics, “because I learned at Middlesex there was a real power in the ability of faculty to work together with common purpose, and using some techniques that they had agreed really had a high impact on student learning, and that was something I wanted to help grow at my college.”

All community colleges are experiencing a decline in enrollment, Armour said, and they need to respond by focusing more on the segments of the market that they haven’t been able to capture, including “freshening” websites and materials to make them more accessible and user-friendly, and providing other forms of outreach.

She said they also need to focus more on adults who are interested in “upskilling” in their career fields or “reskilling” because their interests and aspirations have changed or they’re “in a career that’s on the fade.”

Armour said MCC students are challenged in meeting benchmarks for the number of credits hours they should be earning in their first year, as well as in earning college transfer credits in mathematics and English. She said she would give “immediate attention and support” to these areas, because these are important markers in student success and completing their credentials.

She said her vision is that all students who desire can access a community college education and gain credentials that will help them find “life-sustaining wages and truly fulfilling work.” Armour said she believes MCC “has the ingredients to achieve that vision,” as well as a will to achieve equity for students and the larger community.

It has always been an important commitment, she said, “but at this time in our nation, with the social activism around the slow progress we’ve made towards equity, our students and our communities really are looking for us to be leaders in that, and I’m excited to know that that’s a deep commitment of yours also.”

At Santa Fe College, Armour said her chief responsibilities have been in strategic planning and leading large collaborative teams involved with academic and student affairs and information technology services. She said she’s “a convener and a facilitator,” helping teams to develop their visions for large college-wide initiatives and the strategies to achieve them. With MCC in the process of developing a strategic plan, Armour said it would be an early priority to determine the quality of collaboration in that process and help guide it to strike a delicate balance between outlining clear intentions and leaving room for innovation and improvisation.

Having served as a leader in both college administration and faculty governance, Armour said she understands the need for the leadership and employees to have good working relationships and healthy dialogue. Especially in times of financial and other issues, that communication needs to go in both directions, she said.

“This is very important in our constrained times, because front-line leaders generally have the best and most immediate information about where our opportunities are to really streamline what we are doing,” Armour said.

She said she enjoys working with diverse colleagues and students, and she seeks those partnerships “because my solutions are weak if they’re informed only by my perspective.”

Maricopa County Community College District Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Felicia Ganther was interviewed Monday, and San Diego Community College District Vice Chancellor for Instructional Services and Planning Stephanie Bulger is due in 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.