From the President
Assignment for My First Day
July 1, 2020
I am so very pleased to be with you – albeit virtually – on my first day as president of De Anza College. On this day, I’m reminded of the first assignment I’ve given to every class I’ve taught: an essay titled “This Is Who I Am.” I hope, over time, to learn about who each of you are. And today, I would like to turn in my own assignment to you – to tell you who I am.
I spent my early years in Mississippi. What shaped much of who I am is the accidental death of my father when I was nine months old. My mother was left with two boys under the age of three, and we immediately went onto government assistance. Although my mother had a two-year college degree in home economics, she had not worked outside the home, and felt that receiving assistance until we were old enough to be home alone would be best for her family. My mother always told my brother and me that we could never allow our current situation to determine where we ended up in life. She taught us to always strive to be one of the best at anything we attempted.
My formal education began as a first-grader in Houston, Mississippi. While many of my classmates had attended kindergarten, I had not. I vividly remember crying my first day because most of the other students knew how to write the alphabet, and I did not. Because I was a fast learner – and took to heart my mother’s urging to strive to be one of the best – I soon caught up with the rest of my class. My mother was proud of my achievements throughout school, and that I graduated third in my high school class of 150.
My brother and I knew upon graduation that our mother could not afford to send us to college, but both of us were determined to go. I was offered full scholarships to the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Mississippi, but at the time I wanted to major in architecture, and none of these institutions offered the degree. I chose to attend Itawamba Community College (ICC), a two-campus, predominantly white residential college in Fulton and Tupelo, Mississippi. My brother attended ICC as well, earning a degree in industrial electricity technology, and he has worked in the field for more than 30 years.
The time I spent at ICC was exceptional – chiefly because of the out-of-class activities I participated in, and the friendships I developed. While I wouldn’t have characterized it this way at the time, my experience at ICC marked my first awareness of the importance of student engagement outside the classroom. I know that De Anza focuses on this as well, through student government, clubs and various ways of community engagement. I also know that De Anza markets itself in the high schools as having the “Whole College Experience” in addition to being “Tops in Transfer,” and I am proof of the importance of that experience.
To take advantage of my strength in math, I changed my major to accounting at ICC, and transferred to the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”). This is where I would complete my bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Besides hearing the lessons of my mother, it was my time at Ole Miss that had the most impact on who I am a leader.
My encounters with overt racism at the university – as you know, the site years before of historic desegregation battles – are what shaped me, established my values and built my skills. As painful as these experiences were, they were ultimately the catalysts to greater achievement. Hearing from majority students that I did not belong instilled in me a strong desire to prove that not only did I belong at Ole Miss, but I could make a difference while there. I maintained my active engagement in college life by, among other activities, becoming involved in the Residence Hall Council, and being elected as president my junior year.
And behind every successful person are those who helped them get there. My first supervisor in student services positions at Ole Miss taught me the difference between managing, coaching and leading, and when it was appropriate to exercise each style on the leadership continuum. She saw my potential, and helped me recognize my own.
I have learned over the years that it’s important to look beyond that which is, to that which could be. With each position I’ve held, from residence hall director to dean of students at both four- and two-year institutions, to vice president at Monroe Community College, I have had the goal of positively impacting the lives of students and others. Individuals cannot always accomplish tasks alone, but individuals can build and create relationships and teams that make a difference. My role as president at De Anza will not be to act alone, but to collaborate both within the college and out in the community for the continued success of an already exceptional institution.
One of my greatest joys is having both students and employees tell me that the college has made a difference in their lives. That is why I do this work. I see working in education as not about self, but about the development of others. This is who I am.
As we embark on this new journey – together – please let me know who you are. I look forward to meeting many of you at the virtual Welcome Reception that the Office of Communications has invited you to, and also look forward to seeing you at the Senior Staff Conversation and Q&A events. In the times ahead, please share your ideas and hopes for our students and our college. The possibilities for De Anza College are endless, and together, we will continue to excel. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be your president.