Dr. Charles Nwankwo shared his experiences of progressing from a community college student to an administrator focused on relationship-building and student success at a presidential candidate forum on Monday.
Nwankwo is the second of three final candidates who have met with community members to discuss their qualifications for the position of the ninth president of Northeast Community College. Each candidate has two public forums in the theater of the Cox Activities Center on the Norfolk campus.
The theater was about three-fourths full at his morning forum. A few people also participated via video conferencing from Northeast’s remote campuses at South Sioux City, O’Neill and West Point.
Nwankwo is vice president of technology and business partnerships at Chandler Gilbert Community College in Chandler, Arizona, where he has been for five years. He has served in numerous administrative, faculty and staff roles at community colleges in Arizona, Texas and Louisiana.
He started by sharing his background and experience of working at community colleges for 24 years. He immigrated to America from the West Africa region to go to school, and he also worked at a number of places including a convenience store, kitchen and fabrication shop. After being laid off from a quality control position, he went back to school.
“I decided I have to go back to school, quickly. … That’s how I ended up going back to the community college. And that was the best decision I ever made,” he said.
The decision led him to eventually get his doctorate in education administration with an emphasis in community college leadership from the University of Texas at Austin. He also attended the University of Houston-Clear Lake and Houston Community College for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
He used his background to empathize with a student who asked him a question about making her commute to the Norfolk campus easier.
Sophomore Grace Baker, who is taking general education studies, said, “I drive at least an hour here and back every day, and I work three jobs, and I go to school full time. What do you think about making that easier for students like me that commute this much? And what are your ideas on that?”
In response, he asked her follow-up questions about her living and working situation, as well as what she was studying. He suggested finding on-campus jobs for her, seeking scholarship and financial aid opportunities and meeting with career services to gain advice on career options.
“I was in your shoes. I did the work and tried to go to college and I understand your challenges,” he said. “My mission everywhere I am is to make it easier for you.”
Student success was at the forefront of the discussion, with Nwankwo providing his definition of a successful community college in response to a Northeast faculty member question.
He said that offering a seamless, expedient and comprehensive service for all students is key, and that community college administrators know they did their job when a student has financial aid, class offerings that work with their schedule and a position in their field after graduation.
“The way we advise them, the way we put services around them, those are all the elements of success,” he said.
Dr. Tracy Kruse, associate vice president of development and external affairs, asked about initiatives he’s done to bring communities and local workforces together with the colleges he’s worked at. Nwankwo said he’s helped start an internship at a local insurance agency in which about half the 15 students involved were later hired.
“The city is happy because the company that is in the town has been looking for people, and the city is trying to bring business and calling me every day to come and meet with companies,” he said. “… Now when a company wants to relocate to Arizona, they’re calling me.”
There were about a dozen questions from administration, students, faculty and community members.
Northeast administrators encouraged attendees to provide feedback on the forums by visiting paulygroup.com/NECCSurveys.aspx. The final forum will be Tuesday for Dr. Leah Barrett at 11 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.