By David Yarger
This past week, Niagara County Community College hosted three public forums to introduce its presidential candidates. The forums also gave attendees the chance to ask the candidates questions they may have regarding the college. Following the remarks, attendees filled out a survey, which judged several categories of the presentation.
Dr. Stephen Dunnivant was the first candidate to present to the NCCC community.
Dunnivant is dean of business, industry, and technology at Tallahassee Community College in Tallahassee. He previously served as associate dean of program development and executive director of Millaway Institute for Entrepreneurship at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City. Dunnivant earned a Doctor of Education in curriculum and instruction at the University of West Florida in Pensacola; a Master of Arts in education and human development from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary social science from Florida State University in Tallahassee; and an Associate of Arts in college studies from Gulf Coast Community College.
During his opening remarks, Dunnivant referenced his background as a young child, as well as his excitement working in the scholastic field.
As a – one can call it – motto toward his presidential campaign, Dunnivant kept referencing the phrase “Find your thunder.”
“Long ago I found my thunder, and it’s in education. There hasn’t been a single day that I’ve woken up and go ‘Awe, man, I gotta go to work,’ ” Dunnivant said. “I’m that happy with what I do. Every day isn’t that easy, but every day is that awesome; it truly is. So I’m highly energized and committed to what I’m doing.”
The second candidate to present on Monday was Dr. Lori Quigley.
Quigley is vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer at Medaille College in Buffalo. She previously served as dean at Esteves School of Education, and as professor of literary education at The Sage Colleges in Troy. Quigley earned a Doctor of Philosophy in language, learning and literacy, and a Master of Arts in public communication at Fordham University in New York; and a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications at St. Bonaventure University.
Quigley opened with a meaningful introduction in a Seneca dialect, which is how she introduced herself and the Allegheny Indian Reservation where she was raised.
“I wanted to make sure I at least introduce myself that way, because it’s a big part of who I am today,” Quigley said. “I’m a person who believes in the dignity and the integrity of each individual person. That each person that works at an institution, or that collaborates with an institutionhas value. I respect the value that people bring to this place. That’s what was taught to me, and I had great mentorship along the way. … I love students; I love people; I love finding out who they are and I like building that connection, because that was part of my success.
On Tuesday, Dr. Darrin Q. Rankin was the final presidential candidate to present.
Rankin is vice president of student success and chief student affairs officer for Lone Star College System in Kingwood, Texas. He previously served as vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at Marygrove College in Detroit. Rankin earned a Doctor of Philosophy in higher education administration at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi; a Master of Science in higher education administration student personnel services from Syracuse University; a Bachelor of Arts in pre-law and sociology at Loyola University in New Orleans; and attended Delgado Community College in New Orleans.
To open, Rankin explained a bit about his private and professional sides. He mentioned one occasion where he offered a full scholarship to a young girl he saw on the news after her mother was severely abused. The girl’s dream was to go to college, and with Rankin’s offer it became a reality. Rankin said the gesture landed him on the Montell Williams Show.
“That’s what education is about to me,” Rankin said. “That’s the role of an institution of higher learning to me – making an impact wherever you can and however you can. However, much authority or influence you have, if you’re not using it to help someone else, then I don’t know what good you are.”
While each candidate was asked several questions by attendees, the trio began with the same three questions. The following is the question, followed by a brief excerpt of the candidates’ answers. The quotes are not the candidates full answers.
Please share with us why you think you should be the next president of Niagara County Community College?
Dunnivant said, “What I see here folks, there’s a renaissance happening from Buffalo all the way up to Toronto. … What differentiates me is I’m focused on quality of life. I’m focused on talent chain management. In my experiences in working with the entire state of Florida, as we create that cradle-to-grave success expectation, especially with what’s happening to “Generation Z.” It’s very different than the millenniums. I have an 18-year-old daughter who is going to the University of Central Florida in the summer. So, when you’re looking at the quality of life expectations there for preference of the cities, different transportation expectations, all those shifting values in culture are what I’m uniquely skilled to bring to this community. … Niagara is at a cusp event. Something’s happening here. It’s right at the verge and it’s going to change that thunder, it really will, in a positive way.”
Quigley said, “I’ve learned a great deal. Certainly I could not have gotten to where I am without the assistance of many others: Others who have pushed me, others who have empowered me. I’ve learned so much about all aspects of an academic institution from my many years working with academic affairs, but also as the second officer of a college working with vice presidents for student development. From finance, from enrollment and admissions and marketing to college relations and fundraising. I really do believe those are things you need. I think when you’re looking for a leader, I would hope that you’re looking for someone who’s like me.
“What you see is what you get. I’m very open; I’m very transparent; I like to build relationships with people. I’m very collaborative. We can’t do things on our own. NCCC cannot really exist on its own. It needs to build and maintain those partnerships in order for us to be sustainable well into the 21st century. I’m completely familiar with this Western New York region. I have a vested interest here. ... I saw great potential. … I see so many exciting things that are happening. I really do believe I can take NCCC and get us on that positive trajectory.”
Rankin said, “I’m ready. I’m ready, let’s go. … After 30 years, after working under 12 presidents, sometimes I’m reminded of when I was a teenager and I thought I knew more than my parents, so I didn’t understand the rules they were making. Well, sometimes I feel that way working with my current president. That’s how you know when it’s time to move out and get your own place. … I feel that I’m qualified and I’m ready, because of the amount of experience I have, the amount of passion I have for this work. If you look at my record, you will see I’ve done some phenomenal things.
“Most importantly, I have a vision. When I look at this college, here’s what I see. I see a little shyness … because of your own greatness. You’re a little shy to talk about your own greatness. …
“I have for NCCC, called ‘Renaissance 2025.’ … Where will we be in the next seven years? … We have to move as an institution to a future state – ‘Renaissance 2025’ – and become that premier liberal arts institution. … There’s an institutional inertia, especially when you’ve gone through a couple leaders, and you’ve had some ups and down … and what do you need to move that inertia? You need energy, vision, you need action to move that object, and what I’m proposing to you is that I’m that action. We’re that action; we’re that energy.”
Please describe the roles students play in shared governance:
Dunnivant said, “If it’s not about the students, we’re wasting our time. The No. 1 thing that we should be focused on is student success. Success is academic, but it’s also life success. … In terms of governance, your (students’) influence back into this college as a president is something you’ll find me very, very supportive of in listening to what your perceptions are, and making sure we’re working with you as you achieve those goals.”
Quigley said, “I think students should be at the table in a lot of things that we do. … We should have student representatives on search committees because, if we’re hiring people, they need to be part of the decision-making, because we’re hiring people to work with students and for students. I think a student’s voice is very important. I can’t imagine not listening to students or not inviting them to have a voice or even a seat at the table. What are we here for? Some of us are here for a career and career opportunities, but, as an educational institution, we are here for the students.”
Rankin said, “Oftentimes, institutions of higher learning will make decisions that suit the institution, but don’t serve the student. … I think we can do what’s in the best interest of the institution, but we have to always recognize that our students are what we’re here for. In ‘Renaissance 2025,’ the drivers of the new initiative would be outstanding operational efficiency, outstanding academic programming, outstanding financial responsibility, civility and collegiality. These are all the drivers of ‘Renaissance 2025,’ most of which center around students. … The student is a big part of this equation, and their voice matters. I would propose that I formulate two teams. One team will be an internal transition team, the other will be an external transition team.”
Rankin said students would be part of both teams.
How does a campus president support the community and its various constituents? Please apply specific examples of your personal involvement in community affairs.
Dunnivant said, “A college president is a critical asset to the quality of life in our community. What I bring to that equation is to make sure that this college is focused on that reality. Of course, the experiences that you have on campus ... how does that translate into the culture of the community that you’re part of? What I’d like to shift is the assumption that you have to leave to succeed. A lot of communities feel like ‘Well, if I grow up here, I can’t succeed; I have to escape.’ We don’t want that to be the story of Niagara. So, what I’ve done in my other capacities is to create talent chain pipelines. They’re very tight relationships with employers, so that you give students the experience to look at different careers.”
Quigley said, “No institution of higher education, in my opinion, should act as a silo. We need community partners. We can’t do everything alone. We are part of this community called Niagara County and beyond. Collaboration must be at the forefront of a president’s agenda. … I give back to community because I lend my expertise in education and academic standards and student experiences and curriculum and regents. … At the same time, I always make sure it’s a win-win both for me and the institution I represent, and the institution whose board that I am sitting on.”
Quigley also mentioned her time with the YWCA in Buffalo and how the executive director reached out to the Y of Niagara Falls before she came to Niagara County.
Rankin said, “The campus president has to be there. The campus president has to be visible. … For example, two years ago, we were raising funds for homelessness – one of our local businesses was instrumental for raising funds for homelessness. So I joined the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ competition as the vice president and I did Michael Jackson. … I did it to help raise funds to help this local company raise money. … With (Hurricane) Harvey, although I lost my home, too, I was very much involved in helping get food and going to different events to tell my story about what happened with Harvey, but also to help raise money to help other families like mine who were impacted by Harvey. I believe you’ve got to be visible and have high energy. You’ve got to get out there in the community; you’ve got to talk to people; you have to participate in events. I look forward to my wife and I attending events together and letting people know that we represent NCCC.”
Each candidate closed with remarks thanking those who attended, and gave additional plugs on their merits.
The NCCC board of trustees will discuss the candidates during an executive session on May 14. From there, the trustees’ decision will be sent to SUNY, which will conduct interviews of its own. A final decision is expected tentatively around June 20, if things go according to schedule.
For more information on the NCCC presidential search, visit http://www.niagaracc.suny.edu/presidential-search/.