It is a strategy that Duncan also used in New York, when a budget crunch led to talk of closing the Delhi campus.
"That woman battled for us," said Dennis Callas, vice president of academic programs and services. "She took the lead and got the other four colleges of technology to work together."
She not only solved the short-term problem, "but also set the stage for years ahead," Callas said.
Her sincere but serious approach appeals to people on campus.
"I don't feel like she hides anything from me and from [the faculty]," said Guy Bunyard, a mathematics teacher and president of the faculty forum. "I've been appreciative of that."
She also stops by staff offices, including with Halloween candy in the fall. "It's a small thing, but it means to me she really does care about us," Bunyard said.
Duncan, 61, grew up on Long Island and said community colleges were not widely recognized when she went to St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y. But before she graduated in 1963, her brother and sister started attending Suffolk County Community College.
"I wanted to be a teacher since I was in the third grade, so there was never any doubt about that," said Duncan, who taught high school English and Latin for nine years and then earned a master's degree and a doctorate in curriculum administration, both at the University of Connecticut.
In 1975, she went to South Carolina to teach at Tri County Technical College. A year later, she began working on a consortium there focusing on community colleges. She shared innovative programs from successful schools with those that were just starting.
"The only people I saw were people who were excited about teaching," Duncan said. "The dullards never came by."
Duncan said she is still excited by community colleges because they do not select their students - they try to help all people do their best.
"It isn't our place to judge what they are capable of, but to give them all the possible opportunities to improve themselves," she said.
It is a mission that keeps Duncan internally busy even as she is outwardly calm.
"I used to try to write down all the different things I thought about during one day and I couldn't keep up with it," Duncan said. "I get diverted. Sometimes I'm not on any one thought for more than 15 seconds."
A busy mind is a trait that Duncan said makes it difficult to be a skilled writer and occasionally makes it hard to remember to where she is driving. But it also creates excitement in her day as one thought leads to another.
"I am not bothered by doing 15 things at the same time," she said. "They all finally come together."
If there is anything that Roger Caplan, chairman of the board of trustees, would like to change about Duncan, it would be to make her take a vacation (without e-mailing him during it.)
She could also accept more credit, he said.
But Caplan has no trouble giving Duncan the highest marks.
"She has clear and concise goals, has her staff buy into them. ... She listens, she communicates clearly what she expects, she has a very well- thought-out plan and she executes it," Caplan said. "She really, I think, sets the model for what a leader ought to be."