GCC presidential candidate believes in ‘democracy’s college’

  • Julie White Contributed photo/GCC

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/30/2018 8:15:14 PM

GREENFIELD — Driving around Erving, Ohio in the early days of her first job out of college, Julie White, a high school English teacher, was trying to get up to speed.

New to the community, although just about half an hour north of her college-town in Columbus, White wanted to understand the students she was working with better. She embarked in a period of “active listening,” a tool that has become essential for her in a career that has most recently landed White at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y. as the senior vice president of student engagement and learning support.

Listening and collaborating have become hallmarks of how White has seen her career in academia, which started as a high school English teacher where “I learned literally everything I needed to know for every job,” to her time in higher education, both at four-year and two-year institutions.

Now she’s attempting to become the next president of Greenfield Community College, as one of five finalists to replace Bob Pura when he steps down from the helm at the end of the academic year.

Monday afternoon was White’s opportunity to show the college why she makes the best choice, with faculty and administration now on their fourth of the five candidates, with the final candidate coming Wednesday.

“I think community colleges, we have this label as democracy’s college and I still believe that,” White said. “I still believe that we are really one of the few vehicles for folks to improve their economic and therefore their overall well-being.”

While explaining her view on the value of community college, White also spoke about the values at the one here in Greenfield that she connects with: student-centric, sustainability, social justice, to name a few.

“Mission statements are sometimes meaningless,” she said, but offered the one at Greenfield Community College — “to teach, in a small, supportive and intimate learning environment, the knowledge and skills necessary for our students to reach their highest potential…” — is one that resonates deeply with her.

Prior candidates were asked about their vision for the school in the years ahead, and while the faculty and administration present for the open forum Monday didn’t ask this question as pointedly this time around, White did get across a rough idea of how her goals will be shaped.

“One of my staff members said, ‘If you’re not talking about student success, then don’t bother talking to Julie White.’”

She did note she will work for her whole administration, and acknowledges how one student’s needs could influence the way another program runs. She preached a view of interconnectivity and acknowledging how the part can affect the whole.

At her current college, budgets have been cut for consecutive years, but White said she’s made sure professional development has not been cut. “If we don’t keep helping our folks get better, we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face.” She said for this reason as well, she doesn’t believe in cuts across the board because they don’t look at how one piece influences the other.

Referring to the institution’s mission statement is a core value of White’s, as well.

“My job is to set a vision and create circumstances that (students) can do their best work and remove barriers, White said. She views herself as collaborative and wanting to work off of people’s strengths.

In White’s career, she has held several positions of leadership that have helped to solidify this ideology.

At the community college she’s at now, she leads programs and services for student engagement and retention. She has held positions at colleges in roles of student services, research administration, health education and women’s services. She is active in statewide initiatives, including the SUNY Task Force on Food Insecurity, and she is president of the New York Association of Community College Chief Student Affairs Officers Inc.

While working at Rochester Institute of Technology, White explained a good amount of her work included the college’s National Institute for the Deaf. She said, trying to learn a community that had been foreign to her, White used to go to as many events as she could, sometimes sitting in on programming where she was the only person not deaf and the translator was there for her assistance.

Years away from those days of driving around Erving, Ohio in hopes of learning the community, White now hopes she has a chance to embed herself and learn what people in Greenfield feel the place they call home is all about.

“I’ve been trying to get to the Pioneer Valley for the last 20 years,” White said, saying she’s always been drawn by the cultural resources, landscape and proximity to other things. The opportunity in Greenfield in particular drew her:

“More specifically and more importantly is what draws me to Greenfield is the culture you all have built here.”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:


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