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Leading Our Future: Anne Arundel Community College President

Aug 01, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

By Tom Worgo

Anne Arundel Community College president Dawn Lindsay often puts in brutally long days. Twelve-hour stretches are common. She’s been on a mission to get things done, make changes, boost enrollment, and enhance the college’s curriculum. Lindsay has made the college more diverse, stabilized enrollment, and boosted graduation rates while helping create a veterans/military resource center.

“We get so many awards every year and it’s been because a lot of her work,” AACC Board of Trustees Chairman Larry Ulvila says. “We have won diversity awards nationally.”  

The Annapolis resident has raised the profile of the college, belonging to six national, regional, and local boards, including the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council and Governor’s Workforce Development Board. This month, Lindsay became only one of about 20 administrators nationwide to serve on the American Board of Community Colleges.

“She is constantly on the move and is like the energizer bunny,” Ulvila says. “She is relentless. I do a lot of after-hours stuff myself because of my involvement in the community, and I just constantly run into her.”

Lindsay’s work has not gone unnoticed. North Virginia Community College pursued her to be its president in 2015, and she was one of four finalists for the position. She withdrew from consideration and received a five-year extension from AACC.

“I really love the classroom and working with people who might need a little more help than other people in order to be successful. At a community college, we take everybody in.”

Lindsay’s background and accomplishments obviously appealed to Northern Virginia Community College officials. She’s worked at community colleges for 29 years, including president of Glendale Community College in California for four years and nearly four years as a dean at another California school, Riverside Community College.

We recently sat down with Lindsay, a Perry Hall High School graduate, to talk about her achievements, all the boards she serves on, how much longer she’s likely to stay at AACC, her love of theater, and what she likes to do in her free time.

How did you land at AACC?

It was a chance to come to an accredited college. I was at a really good college in California. But AACC was known for innovation, the faculty, and responsiveness to the community. It wasn’t just about coming back home. I had been out in California for 18 years. I didn’t know if I would ever make it back, but I love being back. But the job was the driver.

Given your background, why did you pick a career in community colleges versus four-year schools?

I’ve had opportunities at all levels. I have taught at doctoral programs as well. I am a therapist by training and started teaching for the Howard County Police Department. I also taught in human services at (Community College of Baltimore County) Dundalk. I really love the classroom and working with people who might need a little more help than other people in order to be successful. At a community college, we take everybody in.

Enrollment has declined at AACC since 2012. How do you reverse that trend?

Our unemployment is very, very low. I say it somewhat jokingly about throwing people into a recession. I don’t want that to happen. That is what causes people to come back to school. When the economy trips again, people will come to us because we are the workforce engine. We can train and get people new-job skills. We get (students) back in the same career possibly at a higher level or a different career, and we can do it much faster.

You serve on six boards. Which ones jump out at you?

This is probably the most I have ever been on. We want to keep our reputation up as a national leader and that’s one of the reasons I serve on so many boards. I can bring the college’s solutions and programs that we offer and the experience that we have and how it can influence these boards. I really like the effort and purpose of the Fort Meade Alliance. I sit on a board for the Baltimore Washington Medical Center. I like that one because of the medical connection. I am very proud that we have a seat on the (executive) board on the League for Innovation for Community Colleges. It’s a very prestigious seat. I am on the board for the American Association for Community Colleges. There are only four female presidents on it.

Can you talk about the military/veteran resource center you implemented?

My dad was a military veteran. So, I grew up with a real appreciation of the armed services. We are a military-friendly school. We are sitting here with the Naval Academy and Fort Meade. I wanted to make sure the veterans that were coming here to obtain an education had the things in order to do it. One of the things that we realized that they needed was a quiet space where they could go and be together and bond, relate, and collaborate with each other.       

What else do you consider among your biggest achievements?

Diversity, inclusivity and moving the number of students that come in the door closer to the number of students who successfully obtain their educational goals. Completion. I want to continue to push our retention and completion numbers up. If someone is coming here for an A.A. or an A.S. degree or because they want to transfer. We want to make sure if that is the goal when you come in, that you came here to complete the goal. That you don’t drop out or stop. People know who we are and where we are going.

What will be the next big thing at the college?

We have the health sciences building coming up. That’s a $116 million-dollar project. We are very excited about that. What we are doing is creating a health sciences core. We will have biology classes over there because it will actually feed into the heath care programs. I want to continue to enhance our reputation as an innovative college.

How much longer would you like to be AACC’s president?

Until I retire. I am not sure when it’s going to be, but hopefully another six or seven years.

Were you serious about the position at Northern Virginia Community College?

I was seriously looking at it as an opportunity because I didn’t have a contract at that time. We weren’t sure what was going on. Virginia approached me. I can say I never really wanted to leave Anne Arundel. I came from California for this college. I wanted to be here.

You were on a theater board in California.  Are you a big theater lover?

I love the performing arts. I enjoy live music, musicals, dramas. I don’t get to go as much as I would like. When I travel is when I tend to see my shows. It just becomes part of my vacation. New York, Las Vegas. In New York I have gone to Broadway plays. I like going to Jazz Fest in New Orleans. 

What other hobbies do you have?

I love to cook. I love to be with my two dogs, border collies. They are great company and I really enjoy having dogs in my life. I like spending time with friends. I work a lot. I am out representing the college all over the place. I don’t have a lot of down time.