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Editorial: Bidding adieu to GCC’s Bob Pura — a true visionary


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bob Pura will be a tough act to follow as president of Greenfield Community College, which he has led for going on 18 years.

The college president’s job is part educator, part administrator, part motivator, part politician, part cheerleader, and probably lots of other roles far less obvious to outsiders. It’s not a combination that often comes together in one person. Judging from the accolades from community leaders after Pura announced his pending retirement as the semester began, he has been hugely successful at all these jobs.

“He proved himself time and time again as a visionary, competent, inspiring and community minded leader. His legacy is a strong, quality institution dedicated to the service of its communities,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who has worked with Pura often to secure state funding for the school.

Pura’s tenure is about three times as long as the average term of his eight predecessors since the school’s founding in 1962. No doubt that longevity has helped Pura achieve many of his long-term goals for the college.

While his early years saw a $17 million renovation of the Colrain Road facility, Pura’s energy wasn’t simply spent on the brick and mortar improvements and expansions. Under his leadership, the college expanded opportunity for people of Franklin County, and more recently in Hampshire County, and beyond.

A graduate of community college himself, he was the son of an immigrant and the first in his family to attend college. Perhaps that experience informed and inspired his drive to make GCC open the door of education as wide as possible.

The evidence of his legacy stretches far and wide.

In addition to a long-standing connection to the Ada Comstock Scholar program for students attending Smith College beyond traditional college age, GCC under Pura established bachelor degree connections with Worcester State University, Elms College, the Mass. College of Liberal Arts and Endicott College.

The state Board of Higher Education has cited GCC as having the highest rated student success scores (based on graduation, retention and transfer rates) of all 15 community colleges over a six-year period. And GCC is the smallest of the 15.

With help from Sheriff Christopher Donelan, the college has run many programs for inmates at the Franklin County jail, increasing their chances of a better life on the outside.

GCC was among 10 recipients of a Massachusetts “Leading by Example” award recognizing efforts to significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, to increase recycling, and to boost use of renewable energy and other clean energy. GCC also moved toward a sustainable future through four academic programs: renewable energy/energy efficiency; peace, justice and environmental studies; environmental science/natural resources; and farm and food systems — all programs that resonate with Franklin County’s progressive, practical, forward-looking population.

The college has made several efforts over the past two decades to support its student veterans: VetNet, a student club and the Channing & Marie Bete Veterans Center, to name two.

With a state grant, GCC and Franklin County Technical School have offered state-of-the-art precision-machinist training to meet the needs of local machine tool companies. Dozens have now graduated from the program to land well-paying jobs and satisfy a demand in the local economy.

More recently, GCC has been slowly building a presence in Amherst and Northampton as part of a long-term strategy to expand opportunities for students who can’t get to the Greenfield campus. Evening classes in subjects like English composition, statistics and microcomputer software skills are offered.

The college’s long-successful licensed practical nursing program remains based in Northampton, currently at the Smith Vocational and Agriculture High School. Pura has talked about working with Westfield State College to help bring its bachelor of science in nursing program to Smith Voke, in the same way it helped bring a BSN program from Elms College to the GCC campus.

Pura can’t seem to stop building ladders to advancement and future success for the area’s college students, especially those from working class backgrounds of modest means. His success has been our success. His departure is our loss.