College chief up to challenges

HCC chief aims to foster opportunities

June 01, 2007

When she arrives at Howard Community College this morning, Kate Hetherington will bypass the office she has used for eight years on the second floor of McCuan Hall and head for the one marked Office of the President.

Hetherington starts her job as the college's top administrator today, replacing Mary Ellen Duncan, who held the post for nine years. Hetherington was hired as the college's vice president of student services in August 1999 and has spent the past three years as executive vice president.

Hetherington attended the Community College of Philadelphia and started her administrative career there in the financial aid office, where she worked for 12 years. She became that college's dean of student systems and served as acting vice president for student affairs. She also taught social sciences at Delaware County Community College.

She earned a bachelor's degree in social sciences from Pennsylvania State University, a master's degree in counseling and human relations from Villanova University in Pennsylvania and a doctorate in higher education leadership from Widener University in Delaware.

Hetherington, 54, is in the process of moving from Baltimore to Columbia.

She sat down with Sun reporter Sandy Alexander in her office this week to talk about her new role and her plans for the future.

What about community colleges made you decide to make your career there?

When I went to school [at the Community College of Philadelphia], it was a time of change in the country. There were ex-GIs returning from Vietnam. The women's movement was right in its heyday. I had in class a very diverse assortment of people. So it was a whole new world that was opened up for me at community colleges.

When I was growing up, there weren't that many options for women. You were a teacher. You were a nurse. But I remember seeing someone working at the community college, and she was an administrator. I said, "You know, that's kind of interesting work."

[The students at Philadelphia and at Delaware County Community College, where she taught] had these wonderful stories and they would be, again, a cross-section of people, from students right out of high school to single parents to divorced women coming back and trying to find their way.

I think that's what makes community colleges unique. ... I do think they offer the opportunity for people to get their first start, and they also offer the opportunity for people to get their second chance. And, of course, I feel like I am working at the best one right now.

Was there a specific point during your time at HCC at which you decided you wanted to pursue the position of president?

It think it was in terms of taking steps in my life. ... I've been at the college for eight years. Three years ago, I was asked to take on the capital campaign. The goal was $12 million and we raised $14 million. Two years ago, I was asked to take on the responsibilities of executive vice president. It gave me a change to see first-hand what the experience would be like.

I actually had been getting offers to apply for jobs when I became the executive vice president. That was the opportunity for the board [of trustees] to see me in a different kind of way, and also to see how I would be suited.

What is appealing to you about moving to the top role in the organization?

I think the thing that is the most exciting is that you can create, along with other people, a vision for an organization. ... We have a great legacy here at the college, but the opportunity to move the college forward and take it on to even better things is very appealing to me.

We foster a culture of servant leadership at the college, and basically you provide the opportunity for people to really become the best that they can be. ... As the leader of the institution, you can do something with the culture.

They always say it starts at the top, and I really do belive that. ... Getting people on board to think positively and focusing on what you're doing and focusing on something greater than yourself, I don't think there is anything better that you could ask for.

Do you think the challenges facing HCC have changed in recent years?

I think we got a hint of it this year. The county was extremely generous [with funds], but this was the first year we didn't get a full compliment of capital funding.

[HCC wanted to start designing a new health sciences building. It also requested funds to add classroom space to the Clark Library building.]

This is a growing college. We're getting close to one quarter of Howard County high school graduates coming directly to here. We also have career changers, we have [the Base Realignment and Closure program] coming, so the demand is going to increase.

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