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On Shaping the Future
New Bristol President Laura L. Douglas on Shaping the Future
By LAUREN DALEY
When President Laura L. Douglas, Ph.D., takes the helm of Bristol Community College on July 3 — becoming the College’s fourth president and second female president — she said she will aim to embrace Bristol’s Strategic Plan centered in “Shaping the Future” of the College and the communities we serve.
Dr. Douglas comes to Fall River after 12 years as provost of the Urban Campus of Des Moines Area Community College in Des Moines, Iowa. The campus, the second largest of a six-campus system, was “in a lower-socioeconomic area, and I felt I had a lot of opportunity to do a lot of good” when she arrived there, she said.
She feels similarly arriving at Bristol. When speaking with Dr. Douglas, it quickly becomes clear that she is laser focused on how to reach underrepresented populations. When asked how she will make changes, her first reaction is central to this focus – to listen and gain input first. Some changes are necessary and must take place right away; others require more time and a slower pace because of their complex nature. Dr. Douglas said she will carefully approach the best way to make a change and determine if a change is necessary at all. She recognizes that Bristol is already a high performing college with a stellar reputation.
Starting day one, the College will be launching the #BCCConnect community tour with President Laura Douglas.
“I want to listen and join in the conversation with all members of the community," she said about the community tour. Dr. Douglas will be working hard to connect with students, faculty, staff, groups, businesses, and local industry.
In addition to spending her time in the different College communities, she looks forward to connecting via social media. She can be followed on Twitter @PrezBCC using #BCCConnect during her first few months. She also wants to create a Bristol Snapchat account, and grow the College’s Instagram and Facebook accounts using student ambassadors. “It is important that we meet people where they are, and constantly look for new ways to connect. For busy students, social media is a way for them to be a part of the Bristol community and connect to just-in-time information that will help them succeed.”
“Having meaningful connections with students, faculty, staff, and community members is at the heart of the community college mission.
“In the BCC service area, we need more students to attend college so that they can get the mid-skills jobs that go unfilled and have the chance to build wealth. This is where I will bring a lot of expertise and passion. This is also a great opportunity to align Bristol programming with economic changes and workforce development in the region.”
She added that she “loves” the work Bristol has done thus far with sustainability, and looks for that aspect of the College to blossom further.
At Des Moines Area Community College, Dr. Douglas was able to “grow the college in many ways,” including increasing “student enrollment from 25 percent to shy of 50 percent students of color. Thirty percent of our staff and faculty was of color” when she left, she said.
She also worked with Des Moines-area refugees: “We had refugees from hundreds of different countries, called ‘New Iowans.' We developed an excellent reputation for specialized outreach,” she said. “We had about 16,000 refugees from African nations, a large Latino population, and our Asian population was the fastest growing of all.”
For example, in one initiative, Burmese refugees were provided with hotel housekeeping training in order to obtain jobs with “good wages and opportunities to advance” at area hotels.
In another, the college offered summer youth programs to help refugee children with leadership skills.
Another initiative that Dr. Douglas spearheaded — and one she said grew increasingly popular — was the college-hosted “Family Nights.”
“We did African, Asian, and Latino Family Nights, inviting them to our campus to tell them what our college can do for them and their families. The events were truly heartwarming to see,” she said. “That’s something I’d love to bring to Bristol if appropriate.”
She recalled a particularly moving reaction: “A woman from one of our African communities came to me; she wanted to start something to help young African girls learn to code. She said, ‘And we want one of those Family Nights!’ … That was the moment I knew we had institutionalized something important.” It is very important to Dr. Douglas to develop a strong college-going culture within the Bristol service areas.
Individual Campuses, Unique Communities, One College
“I’m coming from a six-campus community college system in Iowa, and I know it’s important that we make sure that we’re one college,” she said. “We have different locations to better meet the needs of each community. Each campus needs to be different to meet the needs of those individual communities, and to build unique relationships with their communities. I’ve learned from working in Iowa that there’s no way you can have the same college with the same services — each community is unique and the mission of college is to best suit the needs of those individual communities.”
“Some things I do want to work on will be diversity and inclusion, and identifying and building strategies to cultivate new markets, to work with different groups.
“A key goal is to bring the College community together; to be that cohesive institution that we want to be, making sure our College is well-aligned with economic changes and workforce development needs in our community,” she said.
“My expertise is organizational culture. That was one thing I brought to my Iowa campus — there was a need for a culture shift. It feels in many ways that my life’s work is to help colleges become more innovative and synergistic. If we’re going to help students succeed, we as faculty and staff have to love coming to work and knowing we’re going to make a difference.”
Dr. Douglas recognizes the importance of transparency and plans to identify areas of the College where greater transparency is needed and work together with the College community on those processes. “I applaud BCC’s dedication to shared governance and improving communication among all constituents. We need to put the processes in place to measure if we are doing what we say we are doing, celebrate the successes, and fix the problems. We want a college environment and culture that reflect the highest integrity and dedication to our students, employees, and the community.”
“I know I can bring some of that here to BCC,” said Dr. Douglas. “People are looking to be a part of something positive, and working together, we can do great things.”