Dr. Seuss once wrote, “Don’t cry because it’s over – smile because it happened.” As I leave for a new position as President of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), I am proud to say it’s been a great honor to serve as president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College.
I began my work with Rio as a consultant in 2008, and graciously accepted the presidency eighteen months later. We made a lot of progress in the past five years. But as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” I believe the progress made was very much a team effort – trustees of both the university and community college, dedication of faculty and staff, and a growing support from alumni. While it is difficult for me to leave Rio, I am at peace knowing these individuals and groups are working diligently toward a strong future for our learners.
The boards are working as “One Rio,” a term we coined six years ago when amplifying the importance of sharing a measurable strategic direction. Trustees of both boards launched the ten-year strategic plan at a retreat in 2010, resulting in Decade of Dreams. We are currently updating the plan with a “2014” snapshot of trends that influence higher education, the economic and political environments in which we operate, and the individual programs offered. One important aspect of being strategic is the ability to be flexible and dynamic as the world arounds us changes. Rio will adapt accordingly.
When I say my last farewells at the end of this month, it excites me to know I will be back for the August 15th grand re-opening of Wood Hall, featuring $3.5-million in renovations from state capital funding. It is the same day of the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the formation of Rio Grande Community College (RGCC). Rio loves a good party, and both these events mark outstanding achievements for the students, the region and our alumni.
My new position with the HLC, which serves as the regional accreditor for all institutions of higher education in 19 states from Arizona to West Virginia, focuses on quality assurance and student success for more than 1,000 institutions. The focus on quality at Rio is measurable and on a path toward continuous improvement. The increase in faculty-student research the past four years is something for which I am especially pleased. The academic leaders and faculty are a great source of pride for Rio – from fine arts performances to STEM research, strong programs with specialized accreditation (national recognition) and most importantly – students entering successful careers of their choice.
There are also many staff to recognize who do a great deal of work behind the scenes to maintain the campus, keep it safe and running smoothly. I have never worked with a more dedicated group of individuals; they operate as a family on behalf of our students.
I want to thank everyone for your support during my tenure as president. The trustees and staff provided me a remarkable farewell celebration, in the classic Rio tradition. They made me feel as though I will always be a member of the family, and for that I am very grateful. In the quiet hills of southeastern Ohio, there is a very special place. It’s been a great privilege to call it my home. I can assure you that when the cold winter and snow set in on Chicago, I will be warm in my heart with my memories of Rio Grande.
Barbara Gellman-Danley, Ph.D.