In 1973, the Northeast Community College campus consisted of two completed buildings and two others under construction. At that time, the college served approximately 800 credit students and offered 39 programs of study.
The school’s first president, Dr. Robert Cox, envisioned something much bigger. In addition to helping guide the merger of Norfolk Junior College and Norfolk Technical Community College into what is now Northeast Community College, he also supervised the construction of 10 other buildings and the acquisition of the 600-acre college farm.
Through the years, Dr. Cox shepherded the college in impressive growth, in new educational areas, in community-minded programs and as a partner in a variety of efforts with other Norfolk and Northeast Nebraska institutions.
And since his retirement almost 25 years ago, the college has continued Cox’s vision under his successors. But in searching for those successors, the college hasn’t stuck to the same blueprint.
After Cox’s retirement in 1995, Northeast turned to Dr. James Underwood, former chief academic officer at Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois. During Underwood’s term as president, Northeast’s enrollment increased more than 50 percent, several innovative education programs were brought to campus and he was on hand when the new Lifelong Learning Center was dedicated in 1998.
Following Underwood’s departure, Northeast went with a familiar face, Dr. Bill Path, who had served as vice president of student services at Northeast. After one year as vice president of academic and student affairs at Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado, he returned to Northeast in 2001 as president.
Path helped spearhead the construction of the $7.7 million College Welcome Center and forged partnerships with Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing — including the capital campaigns to build the $12.9 million J. Paul and Eleanor McIntosh College of Nursing and the $12 million College Center in South Sioux City.
Following Path, Northeast went a different route, going with an experience in Dr. Michael Chipps, who had served as president of Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte.
Under Chipps’ leadership, Northeast was named as a top 10 national finalist for the prestigious Aspen (Institute) Prize for Community College Excellence. And like his predecessors, he had a vision to increase the college’s footprint. That includes the Agriculture & Water Center for Excellence project, first outlined by Chipps in 2014.
Now Dr. Leah Barrett will help see that to fruition as Northeast embarks on another era in leadership. Read more about Barrett and why she seems like a good fit on on Monday’s Commentary page.