October 8th marked my 100th day as president of Everett Community College. And today, October 16th is my 35th birthday. For many reasons, I am taking an extra moment to reflect on my experiences over the past 100 or so days. I'd be lying if I said that my first 100 days were filled with sweet smelling roses, dandelions, and sunshine. But I can guarantee you the reception from the Everett community is amazing and it is certainly an honor to be in this position.
As someone that has aspired to the community college presidency for a while, I often wondered what the first few months were like for new presidents. What should I pay attention to? How do I make decisions? Who do I trust? I have provided a short list of areas of focus. I am certain there is much that I have not included, so feel free to comment below. I hope this list helps someone on their journey to the presidency.
Pace yourself and take control of your calendar. As a new president, you instantly feel that you need to be present at EVERYTHING on your campus and in the community. You will be invited to EVERY event and in most cases, expected to be in attendance. During the first week of classes I was out of the house before sunrise and home after dark. Some meetings began at 7:00 in the morning and ran back-to-back, with little time for restroom breaks or food. It was not long before I realized this pace was truly unsustainable. Take control of your calendar. It is acceptable to postpone or simply say, "not at this time."
Listen more than you speak. People want to be heard and need to understand that you hear their concerns. I go into meetings and openly tell groups that I have no agenda and my purpose is to listen and to learn as much as I can. This in turns produces unfiltered thoughts and opinions from those that matter the most. It also fosters transparency and helps you begin to earn trust.
Take your time to make an informed decision. There are very few decisions that require an immediate response. Be willing to collaborate to gather accurate qualitative and quantitative data to make an informed decision when the time is right.
People will test you. My tests have come in many forms, but it is usually when someone does not agree with a decision that was made. Keep your cool, hold people accountable, operate with the highest standards of ethics, and exercise emotional intelligence.
You cannot do it all in the first year. There are just some things that will need to wait. Get a journal and plan what you will tackle in year one, two, three, four, and five, understanding this may change depending on the circumstances.
Make time for your board. Your board members are key to your success at the college. Work with them to build a vision and to set priorities, but most importantly, build a solid relationship with each member. I send weekly emails giving them updates on higher level situations such as enrollment and major personnel changes. I also talk to my board chair at least one time per week, but there are many cases when we talk two to three times per week. Most of my board members have met my family, including the kids as I want them to know that I cannot be a good president if I am not a good wife and mother.
Communication is vital and it comes in many forms. Over the years I have noticed that students rarely respond to or check their emails but they will like or comment on a photo. I use Social Media to check the temperature at the college and it is a useful tool. The first week of classes, I asked students to tell me about their experiences. I received over 200 responses and even some inquiries on how to register for classes and where to get support for common questions about tutoring and financial aid. What is really cool, is that faculty, alumni, staff, and community members follow me, which provides a different level of communication and access to the president. If people are unable to schedule a meeting with me or if they don't see me on campus, taking pictures at events and posting helps me to remain visible, connected, and it expands my ability to communicate.
Plan a vacation. If you don't you will never get one. In December we will vacation in Mexico. In June we will travel to Alaska. I hope we make it to Accra, Ghana as I have always wanted to visit the slave fortresses to better connect with my ancestors. Take time for you and your family. You will thank me later.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. Trust and believe that I can probably write a dissertation on my first 100 days. I can talk about my unexpected participation on Capitol Hill offering my experiences as a former college student parent as a way to advocate for students taking care of their children while trying to achieve an education in 2019. I can highlight my time returning to FAMU to be honored for my work in higher education. I can discuss some challenging decisions that were made a mere two to three weeks in my role as a president. Or I can spend time talking about the many people that have resigned during my early days forcing me to rethink our organizational structure.
Even with the challenges, successes, and opportunities, always remember it is a privilege to serve your community as a college president. This job is not about you. You are responsible for advocating for the unique needs of those you represent, which makes you WORTHY and capable of doing what is necessary to bring about positive change. I am reminded of this as I reflect on my 35 years evaluating where I have been, where I am, and where I want to be.
In the words of India Arie, "Every one of us is worthy."