Presidential candidate hopes to bring community college and state experience to Greenfield

  • Arlene Rodriguez Submitted photo/GCC

  • The Greenfield Community College main campus building. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/25/2018 11:45:51 PM

GREENFIELD — Arlene Rodriguez was a shy kid in school. Growing up as an immigrant from a rural town in Puerto Rico, she was trying to find her voice.

She often said nothing in class, while sitting in the front row. At one point, out of concern from teachers, she had to go through a battery of hearing tests. Her anxiety to speak in front of her peers was high, but she found solace in reading and writing.

A teacher encouraged her to read her writing out loud to the class one day, and as she trembled she realized something: “You just find your voice when someone tells you it’s worth hearing,” Rodriguez told the dozen or so teachers, faculty and community members gathered to hear her speak as a finalist for the next president of Greenfield Community College after Robert Pura steps aside at the end of the academic year.

Rodriguez learned a love for education from her teachers, and now the current senior academic affairs adviser to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education is looking to return to the teaching environment.

Rodriguez has spent 20 years of leadership in public higher education in Massachusetts.

She began as an English professor at Springfield Technical Community College, where she said she gained a strong foundation for her career. Rodriguez went on to become an academic dean and vice president of academic affairs of the college.

One of her biggest beliefs is in advocacy. Rodriguez leads the state initiative 100 Males to College, which helps to pave the road to college for low-income males and young men of color. She had helped to pilot the program in Springfield.

When Rodriguez went to the Department of Higher Education, it was a “wonderful opportunity to peek behind the curtains” and to “really look at how we can affect systemwide change, because that’s exciting.”

She said she’s had to learn to jump into other projects when needed. That landed her reviewing education programs and early college initiatives.

Now, Rodriguez wants to head back to the college world and she sees GCC as a good fit for her.

“It’s the most community of community colleges in our system,” she said she’s told colleagues in the state. “That resonates with me.”

If the president of the college, she hopes to work with the Franklin County community at-large. She sees herself as someone who will always ask administrators, teachers and faculty, “What do you need? … I feel that’s my job.”

Beginnings

She remembered back to the story of her parents, neither of whom had a formal education in their Puerto Rico community. Her father knew enough English to get a job in midtown Manhattan, when he came over to the States. He worked as a custodian and would polish bronze.

Rodriguez would get to see the bright lights of the city with her parents — “midtown Manhattan at midnight is pretty impressive” — but there was a different routine that was imprinted in her memory: every Saturday they went to library.

“I am very lucky to have parents who understood the value of an education, even though they may not have understood the steps to take.”

Other finalists

The rest of the finalists for college president will hold an open public forum on campus from 4:15 to 5 p.m. on their scheduled dates. Rodriguez was the second of five finalists to be introduced, and Christopher Gilmer was the first.

The remaining finalists and dates they will be on campus are: Friday, April 27, Yves Salomon-Fernandez; Monday, April 30, Julie White and Wednesday, May 2, Carla Oleska.

You can reach Joshua Solomon
at: jsolomon@recorder.com




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