November 24, 2017
School & Youth
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Lindsay Reflects On Five Years Of Leading Community College

Dylan Roche
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September 7, 2017

Dr. Dawn Lindsay stepped into the role of president of Anne Arundel Community College in late summer 2012, and in the five years since becoming a leader of the nationally ranked school, Lindsay has immersed herself not only in the culture of the college but also in that of the greater Anne Arundel County area.

On the first day of the fall semester at AACC, the Voice caught up with Lindsay and reflected on the challenges she’s overcome and accomplishments she’s made over the past five years. Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

 

Thank you taking the time to speak with me on the first day of school.

Oh, it’s so exciting. I really love the first day of classes. People are milling around, trying to find where they’re going, asking for help, interacting with one another. Our campus has really responded well. We’re out helping them get where they need to go.

I wanted to talk a little bit about your fifth anniversary in your role as president. Congratulations. I know when you first stepped into your role back in 2012, you said, “The role of a president is to understand the community you serve, buy into the community and support it.” What have you really come to love about the Anne Arundel community?

This is a really amazing community to work in, and what I really credit it to is the leadership throughout, be it our public officials, the Anne Arundel County Public School system, or Leadership Anne Arundel. There’s such a commitment to success, and it’s a very altruistic kind of approach people in this community take because everybody keeps their eye on the ball and does what’s in the best interest of the community. I’ve spent a lot of time really integrating myself into the community and getting to know such an amazing group of colleagues.

Educationally, I’m really excited about what we’re doing with the college. Last year, I introduced — and the board approved — a new strategic plan called “Engagement Matters: Pathways to Completion,” where we’re really working to reshape the student experience from front door to end. Our focus is no longer just on students getting in the door; our focus is now on completion. We’re working really hard to revamp and revise the curriculum and strengthen our partnerships with the K-12 system. We’re partnering to be sure the students are really college ready and, through dual enrollment, have an opportunity to get college credits before they begin attending here formally.

In what ways has the college grown over the last five years?

Well, first off, I have to tell you that we had an amazing foundation that I came into. I was fortunate enough to acquire a college that was already nationally known and had incredible leadership, so I’m really humble because I joined a winning team. I didn’t create a winning team. They were already winners when I got here, which is why I wanted to come.

Last year, when we rolled out [“Engagement Matters: Pathways to Completion”], it was a big event for our college because it really shifted our interactions with our students. I tell people all the time, “Engagement is a verb.” It’s about getting to know our students, getting to know our community, getting to know each other, seeing where we can build even stronger partnerships than we’ve had the in past, and we’ve been doing that.

In the spring, we released the first of what’s called the principal’s scholarship, where the principals from each of the 12 high schools in the county selected a student of their choice — primarily for tenacity, dedication and passion — to continue with their education. This may have been a student who didn’t formally meet the needs of some of the other scholarship requirements, and our foundation has funded a $3,000 scholarship for these students that’s spread out over three semesters.

We’ve expanded our curriculum. We know that Hanover is one of the largest growing areas in the county, so we’ve expanded our curriculum out in that direction.

We’ve won three national diversity awards, two through Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Community College Trustees gave us an award for our leadership and for making our campus diverse and friendly for students.

Our culinary department is now 12th in the nation. Our nursing program continues to win all kinds of accolades, as does our architectural program.

I have been working hard to make sure that we put our faculty and our staff front and center at a national level by presenting at conferences to keep our college known as being a national leader. We’re really proud of that.

We hired a chief diversity officer. We were the first community college in Maryland to make that position happen.

I’ve gotten involved with a lot of boards, like Fort Meade Alliance, Baltimore Washington Medical Center, the Governor’s Workforce Bureau, and others.

I know you tend to be humble, but in what ways have your skills been a good fit for what AACC needed?

I believe it’s the relationships that make things happen, so people know I care and people know I’m committed to the mission of the community college. I share with people that we accept the top 100 percent of applicants, so we have the ability to reach a larger population, a more diverse population, and provide them with a skillset and get them where they want to go with their educational goals.

I think my background in servitude leadership has served me well. I understand I have the opportunity to work with amazing people, and if you share with people where you want to go and let them design the direction, you get a lot more buy-in. There’s a lot of pride around the college. Our faculty and our staff, our board, all take our role in the community very seriously. I think because we have such passion for it, that’s what makes us successful. We’re all committed to doing the right thing.

What are some challenges you’ve had to face?

Change is a challenge, right? To stay innovative and to stay on top, you have to continue to respond and innovate. I was talking to someone the other day who said it wonderfully. She made a comment that excellence today without any additional changes is mediocrity tomorrow. That has stuck with me.

We’re good because we know we can’t stand still. When I first started here, I talked about not resting on our laurels. We have to move forward and be innovative and responsive.

In education, we’ve learned to respond to change faster. Quick changes aren’t something academia is known to be particularly good at.

The college has certainly met those challenges, and people here are very dedicated and passionate about what they do. They’re very committed to the student and to the community.

It’s been an ideal job. I can safely say I’m more excited about it now than I even was when I started. I see where we’re headed.

And what do you see for the next five years at Anne Arundel Community College? What will be the biggest challenges, or what are specific goals you have?

We just had convocation last week, and I shared with the college as a whole where I anticipate we’re going to be.

One, we’re going to have higher levels of completion so that all students who come here have a greater percentage of overall attaining certificates and degrees. We’re really focusing on retention. To make that retention happen, we’re developing clear pathways for our students to attain their educational goals. We’re looking at streamlining class offerings, streamlining the basic skill sequence, what has traditionally been kind of an obstacle for students who need assistance with basic skills or remedial education, working on ways to streamline those courses so they can get through them quicker and have the foundation they need.

We’re addressing the equity gap.

We’re imposing and implementing earlier intervention strategies with our students so that we can really proactively intervene with the students before they get frustrated and decide to leave the college. We’re intervening with them so they don’t leave, so they stay and complete.

We’re continuing to build the relationships we have not only on campus but also within and throughout the community. This is a campus that has a lot of well-deserved pride. We’re continually recognized as a national leader and we’re continually recognized for winning national awards. Those are my primary goals for the next couple of years.

It sounds as if your work at the college has been rewarding. Let’s close with a message to students — is there any advice you often give to students that would be especially important at the start of a new semester?

Everybody that’s new to the campus today is coming with all kinds of hopes and dreams of where their future and where education is going to take them. We provide the key to that. We can help them get there, but students need to be actively involved on campus, actively involved in working with the faculty if they have questions. They need to be reaching out for help before they feel frustrated. We’re very student-minded, and we can help and we can provide direction, and we can provide a lot of support for students, but they need to ask for it before they get into trouble.


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