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Exceptional Senior Student Affairs Administrator’s Leadership Strategies and Competencies for Success

Last Spring I was asked by my close friend and long time colleague to contribute to a book being published by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Gwen Dungy is the Executive Director of NASPA, and we have worked together twice over the years. I chaired the search committee at Montgomery College who recommended Gwen for the position of Dean of Students. Later Gwen came to work with me as Dean of Humanities at the County College of Morris where I was Vice President of Academic Affairs. Some of you may recall that she spoke at my Inauguration in 2005. We have a shared history and a long and special friendship. I was honored when she asked me to contribute to a book she was editing. I was asked to write from the perspective of a professional whose career began in Student Affairs/Student Development and who later became a president. This was a wonderful walk down memory lane for me and I had put myself back in time to remember “my awakening” as a disciple of the American Community College Movement. I am pleased to share a small piece of that memory with you.

My First Job - Dr. Wood Spring 1968

“Preparing for a Presidency, Even If It Isn’t Your Goal.”  (Pps 202-204)


THOUGH I CAME to community college education by accident and necessity, America's public community colleges have been my life and passion for more than four decades. After completing a master's degree in student personnel, I got married and needed a job. I was "place bound,' because my new bride and I had to stay in the area while she finished her bachelor's degree. Because I had enjoyed my college life so much, my long-term career goal was to replicate my college life from the other side of the desk, and my immediate goal was a college job in the area.

As a college student, I was in the middle of campus life, serving as an officer in student government, my fraternity, and several clubs and organizations, and as an editor of the college literary magazine. I spent four years in the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and was in "bro" heaven. My dream job was to be dean of men at a large residential university. In 1967, I was in the right spot at the right time. The U.S. contribution to the world's higher education system was becoming a reality: Community colleges were springing up all across America. I landed at Tarrant County Junior College (TCJC) in Fort Worth, Texas. What I learned about program development and education has served me well for more than 40 years.
book cover

Lesson 1: If you want to be seen as successful by faculty, you must be knowledgeable about the curricula and programs of the college.

No matter how important your job is (or you think your job is) to the college, the real work of the institution is teaching and learning. A college president must be seen as fostering this concept among all employees. I was hired as director of student activities, but my first real assignment was as an academic advisor/counselor. The district was expecting 2,000 students at its new South Campus, and almost 4,700 students came. My original start date was August 1. In late May, my new boss, the dean of students, called and asked if I could come to work on June 1. Therefore, immediately after my wedding, I moved, without my bride, to Fort Worth. The dean said I was needed early to help register students, and register students we did-from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. every day. Each student had an individual session with a "counselor." At this point, almost every staff member in student services advised students. We had two days of extensive training/indoctrination by division chairs, who wanted to make sure we understood the programs they offered, the importance of general education courses, and so on. These division chairs were promoting programs and enrollments, and it was our job to fill their courses. I was the kid in the group, and they educated me.

Lesson 2: Acknowledging who someone is and respecting human differences are essential to open up communication between individuals and among groups.

It was also during my first job that I had a seminal/watershed experience that shaped my life personally and professionally. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and attended segregated schools. My high school graduating class had more than 700 students, all White. There were only three Jews. My college was segregated when I enrolled. The first students of color enrolled when I was a junior, so I was never in a classroom with a student of color until graduate school. As a graduate teaching assistant, I had my first classroom experience with students of color. Nine freshman football players were in my class, and I was the one who had much to learn.

At TCJC in 1967, several hundred Black students enrolled along with more than 4,000 White students. For almost all of these 4,700 students, it was their first experience in an integrated school. During my second year at TCJC, there began to be some racial tensions on the campus. Our student services staff decided we needed to structure dialogue/communication among Black and White students. Several of us agreed to host a supper and conversation in our homes for a racially integrated group of students. On a Sunday evening in October, I sat on the living room floor of my small two-bedroom apartment, talking and having a meal with five Black students and five White students. This evening's conversation helped me understand how young and naive I was, and I began to understand the importance of open dialogue and candor with groups of students. This is key if there is to be progress in fostering mutual respect.

*Wood, C.L. “Preparing for a Presidency, Even If It Isn’t Your Goal.”  Exceptional Senior Student Affairs Administrator’s Leadership Strategies and Competencies for Success.  Ed. Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy and Shannon E. Ellis.  Washington, DC:  NASPA, 2011, 202-209.

authors' book signing
Authors’ Book Signing
NASPA Conference
March 12, 2011

President Cliff L. Wood with Dr. Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy
President Cliff L. Wood with Dr. Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy, Executive Director  National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA)




Appreciation and thanks to each member of the RCC Grounds Department, the Plant Facility Department and the Public Safety Department; for all their work behind the scenes keeping our campus safe and healthy, particularly challenging through this winter’s inclement weather.

Thank you to the Quality of Life Committee and the generous people who donated to the Day of Giving campaign that raised over $1,110, deposited in the RCC Association’s Food Resource Program account. Over 200 food items were also delivered to the RCC Food Cupboard. Thanks also to the Faculty Senate for supporting this event, and special thanks to Saeed Safie, Xin Ye, Wendy Greenspan, Carol Kaplan Newmark, Martha Rottman, Eric Magaram, Douglas Barberio, Michael Ver’schneider, Philip Biagioli, Gary Peskin, Gerry Zabusky, Lorraine Sorrentino, and Cheryl Ferguson for their help making this event successful.

Many thanks to the Letizia Brothers auto repair company of Nanuet for their donation of a NY State Emissions Analyzer to the RCC Automotive Technology Program.

With appreciation to all of the members of the Women’s History Month committee, Joanie Ash, David Beisel, Mara-Lee Bierman, Bruce Delfini, Brooke Evans, Patricia Lazar, Maire Liberace, David Lucander, Patty Maloney-Titland, Elaine Padilla, Nancy Pietroforte, Sabrina Rieder, Karen Sunshine, and student representatives Zehra Sheikh and Dena Kopolovich, for their work developing and presenting the Women’s History Month events.  Thanks also to Jonathan Barnwell for the event in honor of women in the military and to all the people from the community who participated.

Thanks to the performers and musicians and all the people who created the wonderful events for Irish Heritage Month. Thanks to committee members: Patty Maloney-Titland, Maire Liberace, Hannah Lowney, Christopher Plummer, Rosemary Witte, Josephine Coleman, Moira Box, Ed Cosgrove, Lize Meisenzahl, Andrew Marcinak, and to student representatives: Brendan Garrity, Maggie O'Rourke, Kimberlyn Frost.


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