Keeping GCCat the heartof our community

  • Yves Salomon-Fernandez Contributed Photo

Published: 9/13/2018 10:07:42 AM

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen many headlines related to the Greenfield Community College. Below are a few examples:

“GCC and Western New England University sign transfer agreement for pharmacy program.”

“Letter to the Editor: GCC an incredible establishment...”

“Mohawk and GCC will team up to offer a pilot robotics course...”

“GCC photography course gives jail inmates chances to take a snapshot of their future”

“2 dozen nurses graduate from GCC practical nursing certificate program”

There’s lots going on at GCC as it matures into one of the state’s more innovative community colleges – no small feat for one of the smallest colleges in one of the most rural and poorest parts of Massachusetts.

So you can see why those who care about GCC know that it is important to protect and expand that legacy, built up over the 18-year tenure of former President Bob Pura.

The school provides a gateway to higher education at the region’s four-year colleges like UMass Amherst and Smith College, and it guides students to career advancement through a range of vocational programs like the LPN program or the Middle Skills computerized machining program. And for some people the college just makes their head hurt and their minds open as they return to school following high school or after years away from formal education.

So, it was with great care that the college’s trustees search out, evaluated and then chose GCC’s new president, Yves Salomon-Fernandez.

They wanted in their 1oth president someone who can continue to win the support of the Legislature and the people of Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. After all, both provide the college with the millions it takes to operate each year. In times past, the president has led local advocates against efforts to merged with other community colleges or to shrink already tight funding. Internally, the president needs to ensure the school operates smoothly and responds to the needs of the students and the community.

Salomon-Fernandez, who says she wants to make a “great community college even greater,” brings strong credentials to Greenfield.

Most recently, Salomon-Fernandez was the president of New Jersey’s Cumberland County College. She spent most of her career in Massachusetts though. She has been the interim president of MassBay Community College in Wellesley. She has taught at Boston College, Salem State University and Cambridge College.

In interviews, Salomon-Fernandez expressed a keen awareness of the rural economy and the role a community college plays in the economic vitality of a region.

“For me, this job is not just about the president of a community college,” she said. “It’s being one of many leaders in the most economically challenged county in Massachusetts to make a difference.”

Her predecessor spent much of his time in that role. It’s no accident that among the trustees are many other prominent community leaders: a Greenfield city councilor, the county sheriff, president of one of the region’s best known real estate firms.

After working in the eastern part of the state for years, Salomon-Fernandez is familiar with Beacon Hill. She said that despite Franklin County losing seniority in its legislative delegation, she is already working on talking to lawmakers she knows about coming to Greenfield to get to know the issues at play here. That was one of the main factors the selection committee chose her.

“The mission of a community college is not just to educate students, it’s to empower students and it’s to support businesses that are going to enhance the level of economic progress in the area,” Salomon-Fernandez said in a recent interview. “You don’t just come here to award degrees — we come here to be a part of economic vitality and intellectual vitality of the citizenship and the renewal and the renaissance of the county...”

To do this well the new president is going to have to insinuate herself into the community as much as she charms the Beacon Hill crowd. She has talked about checking out the region’s farms, its rich craft-brew offerings, zip-lining and rafting, which suggests she already has a sense of some things that make this area special.

In her first few days on campus, students and employees of the college have taken notice of her high-energy, something she prides herself on. Trustees described her as a “ball of energy,” and a “firebrand.”

We wish her well as her first year begins and hope she sets the place on fire.

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