Dr. Leah Barrett shared her impressions of Northeast Community College and perspectives on how she’d lead the institution as its ninth president at a presidential candidate forum on Tuesday.
As the third of three final candidates who have met with community members to discuss their qualifications, Barrett answered questions from community members and Northeast students, faculty and administrators in two public forums in the theater of the Cox Activities Center on the Norfolk campus.
The theater was about three-fourths full with a few attendees participating via video conferencing from Northeast’s remote campuses at South Sioux City, O’Neill and West Point at her first forum. About a dozen participants asked questions at her first forum.
Barrett is vice president for student affairs at the Northern Wyoming Community College District in Sheridan, Wyoming, where she oversees areas including financial aid, counseling services, academic advising, institutional research and TRIO student support services. She also served as the associate vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at The College at Brockport in New York for eight years and worked at various colleges across the country.
Barrett said as she looks to further her career, she’s been strategic in her presidential search, and Northeast is the only college she’s applying at because the campus and area resonated with her. The Wyoming native lives in Sheridan with her husband and two sons and said they’re looking for a place to not only continue her career but for the entire family to thrive, which she believes could be Norfolk, based on her campus visits.
“It was something that felt good, it felt warm, it felt like you would welcome me as much as I would embrace you. And so why I’m here today is because I felt that,” she said. “I am not on any other presidential searches; this is the one institution that spoke to my family and spoke to me.”
In response to a question from Northeast data scientist Jody Gibson, Barrett said she uses data and analytics every day to make decisions, and that it can illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of a college.
“I think that data-informed decisions are imperative,” she said. “... I think data must be shared, it cannot be kept to a few people. It needs to be visible to others, it needs to be part of the importance of sharing the story and the institution and people should not be afraid of data.”
In her 27 years of college leadership, Barrett has gained experience in community engagement, campus development, student athletics and extracurriculars and remote campuses. She also shared her experience with the TRIO program, which assists low-income, first-generation college students, particularly her role in developing international travel opportunities for TRIO students.
Kurt Kohler, dean of student life and athletics, asked about her philosophy of extracurriculars and athletics and what she’s done to develop those programs. Barrett said it’s about creating an atmosphere “that makes it into a celebration” of student athletes, which she has done by promoting partnerships between the student activities staff and athletic department.
“Those student athletes don’t want to compete in a facility, in an arena on a field if no one’s attending,” she said. “That is an expectation I’ve had in my work — that you do have a partnership between student activities and intercollegiate athletics. I’ve had success with that.”
Tuesday was the last day for presidential candidate forums. Northeast administrators encouraged attendees to provide feedback on each candidate by visiting paulygroup.com/NECCSurveys.aspx.