New GCC president set to take reins


Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2018 12:33:46 PM

GREENFIELD — For Yves Salomon-Fernandez, in the process of beginning her tenure as 10th president of Greenfield Community College, the job will be about honoring the past while finding new ways to serve the community.

She takes over this week for Bob Pura after his 18 years on the job as Greenfield Community College president.

With baby boomers retiring and the maturing generations bringing different ideas of what they want out of a workplace, Salomon-Fernandez knows there is a lot to balance at this time as she begins her tenure this week as the 10th president of the local community college.

“The college has a deep history in the community,” Salomon-Fernandez said. “It has that history of being innovative, being out of the box or entrepreneurial. For me, it’s not a matter of trying to come in and instill these values or these perspectives, it’s saying where can we go from here? How do we honor and support the people that have had these extraordinary ideas and have made things happen?”

Ahead of her first school year as the leader of one of the top community colleges in the state, Salomon-Fernandez is figuring out long-term goals, like economic growth and stabilization for the rural county’s economy — and short-term goals, like making sure the college is an enjoyable place to work.

“It’s not just the leadership,” she said. “The president is great; the president provides the vision and support the team and is the number one ambassador, all of those roles — but, at the end of the day, these values and these goals, they have to be lived across the hierarchy.”

Salomon-Fernandez brings a strong list of credentials to Greenfield.

Most recently, Salomon-Fernandez was the president of New Jersey’s Cumberland County College. She spent most of her career in Massachusetts, though. She has been the interim president of MassBay Community College in Wellesley. She has taught at Boston College, Salem State University and Cambridge College.

She earned her credentials at University of Massachusetts Boston for her undergraduate degree, London School of Economics for a master’s degree, a certificate from the University of Oxford in England, and she received her Ph.D. in education and statistics from Boston College.

Explaining her leadership approach, Salomon-Fernandez spoke about her perspective as a “mixed methodologist,” combining a quantitative, statistical approach with a qualitative, anecdotal approach to “really identifying the root cause of the problem.” This is part of the reason she doesn’t want to offer up any defined goals for the coming years, because she would first like to collect data — numbers and stories — to better understand the environment she is entering.

Salomon-Fernandez, who is fluent in French, Haitian Creole and Spanish, is also the first person of color to be president of Greenfield Community College.

“When you’re first you have the opportunity to open doors for others,” she said. “It’s a point of pride that the community saw beyond my race and gender, and saw the merits of my accomplishments and said this is the best candidate and it really doesn’t matter who she is. It says something about the community.”

Salomon-Fernandez says she believes Greenfield Community College values its commitment to meeting students where they are to best educate them.

“What matters most to me is what kind of equal opportunities are we providing for our rural population,” she said.

Salomon-Fernandez expressed that the community college plays an important role in the economic vitality of the region.

“For me, this job is not just about the president of a community college,” she said. “It’s being one of many leaders in the most economically challenged county in Massachusetts to make a difference.”

After working in the eastern part of the state for decades, Salomon-Fernandez brings a network of knowledge of players on Beacon Hill. She said that despite Franklin County losing seniority in its legislative delegation with retirement of longtime state Rep. Stephen Kulik and the resignation of longtime state Senator Stanley Rosenberg, she is already working on talking to legislators she knows about coming to Greenfield to get to know the issues at play here. Her political connections were among the main reasons the selection committee chose her to be the president.

“The mission of a community college is not just to educate students, it’s to empower students and it’s to support businesses that are going to enhance the level of economic progress in the area,” Salomon-Fernandez said.

She spoke about the economic vitality of farming, charting out a plan for students to help keep that culture strong in whatever forms it takes in the future, and to encourage mechanical industries into coming to or staying in the area.

“If we don’t plan and become a part of the solution and if we don’t work with our community colleges to very intentionally plan what the future will become, we’re just going to become one of many other rural communities that no longer exist or that have really decayed and have lost significant portions of their population and that there is no hope for the young people that are there,” Salomon-Fernandez said.

It’s her hope to shape curriculum in a way that emphasizes interdisciplinary learning, especially for tomorrow’s workforce, where things are constantly changing, but certain soft skills are always needed.

“You don’t just come here to award degrees — we come here to be a part of economic vitality and intellectual vitality of the citizenship and the renewal and the renaissance of the county, of the Pioneer Valley,” she said.

While working on these larges issues, she has other goals: like learning to scuba dive, chatting up her colleagues about sharks, and going zip-lining and white-water rafting.

In her first few days on campus, students and employees of the college have taken notice of her high-energy, something she prides herself on.

“At the end of the day, we’re such a mission-oriented organization,” focused on the important task of helping students build better futures, she said. At the same time, she said that, among her staff, she also wanted to focus on the question: “How do we build a team that’s not just about performance, but enjoying what you do.”

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