Lifelong dedication pays off for Hetherington as HCC officially installs her as its 4th president

`Luckiest person on earth'

November 07, 2007|By Ben Block | Ben Block,Sun reporter

Kate Hetherington's lifelong dedication to community college education was rewarded this week as Howard Community College's board of trustees named her the college's fourth president.

Although she began her tenure as president June 1, Monday's ceremony officially installed Hetherington, who has worked at the college for the past eight years.

"Today, I feel like the luckiest person on earth," Hetherington said at the ceremony.

An adjunct music instructor kicked off the afternoon ceremony with a bagpipe performance, leading a procession of professors, administrators from across the state and politicians of all levels down the aisles of the college's Smith Theatre. The theater was filled with supporters speaking Hetherington's praises.

"Kate is a woman of wisdom, courage and gentleness," said Elizabeth Bobo, Howard County's House delegation chairwoman. "I consider ourselves very fortunate to have her."

The ceremony, which began a series of inaugural events, also featured two student musical performances. Winnie Tsao, 11, stood barely taller than her cello as she and Assistant Professor Benjamin Myers performed a duet. Music majors Kim Hokanson and James Kil filled the theater with an excerpt from the opera Fedora by Umberto Giordano.

Hetherington had been the college's executive vice president since 2005. Before that, she was vice president of student services, a position she took when she arrived in August 1999.

Hetherington, 54, succeeds Mary Ellen Duncan, who retired after nine years as the college's president.

"The esteemed and beloved President Duncan is a very tough act to follow," said Professor Linda Wiley, chairwoman of the college's faculty forum. Hetherington "listens, she respects, she makes things happen. ... She creates a rich and supportive community for students."

For the past three years, Hetherington oversaw the capital campaign, a fundraising drive for the college. She helped raise $14 million - exceeding the goal by $2 million - during a time when the college is growing. About one-fourth of the county's public high school graduates enroll at the college, she said.

Among other contributions, Hetherington also spearheaded the creation of Student Advocacy Day, an annual lobbying opportunity for community college students and administrators to collectively visit Annapolis.

Hetherington, who holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from Widener University in Delaware, got her start at a community college. After receiving an associate's degree from Community College of Philadelphia, she began a 12-year career at the college. When she took the job, she ignored early warnings to avoid working in community colleges because, as she was told, they're filled with "hippies and communists."

"I stand before you as a community college graduate; I'm very proud of that fact," she said.

As a financial aid officer at Community College of Philadelphia, Hetherington gained the respect of many within the college, including the vice president of student affairs, Preston Pulliams. At the time, Pulliams told Hetherington she had "the making of a college president," she recalled.

Two decades later, Pulliams, now president of Portland Community College, was the guest speaker at Hetherington's installation ceremony. He said his decision stands true today.

"I congratulate the board of directors for finding a leader with the right stuff," he said. "You must have fire in the belly to make yourself successful, and I see that in Kate Hetherington."

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