Md. college presidential hopeful vows bold agenda

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Photo by Grace Verhey
Karen Stout explains her vision for leading Montgomery College if she is chosen as the next president.

BY GRACE VERHEY

ROCKVILLE, Md., Nov. 29 – Advancing the community college mission at the national level will be among Karen Stout’s top priorities if hired as the new Montgomery College president, she said Wednesday at a Rockville campus forum.

“Montgomery is a large and well-respected institution with lots of assets and lots of opportunities,” Stout said. “It’s in an area that is growing and dynamic and sits right outside the nation’s capitol. [It has an] opportunity to advance community colleges nationally as well, and I think this institution has a particular responsibility to do that, given the location.”

Stout is one of three community college leaders vying to replace outgoing president, Charlene Nunley, who announced her retirement last January.

The college’s board of trustees invited Stout and the two other candidates, Ana Guzman and Brian Johnson, to visit the college’s three campuses this week in Rockville, Germantown and Takoma Park/Silver Spring. The candidates are meeting with faculty, staff and students who will provide feedback to the board. Stout appeared on the Rockville campus Wednesday.

Judy Ackerman, vice president and provost for the Rockville campus, said in an interview that the school’s new leader must focus on capacity-building, student success and maintaining a good working environment.

“The overall thing is helping create an atmosphere that those of us who work here find it to be an exciting and fulfilling place to work,” Ackerman said.

Stout is currently the president of the Montgomery County (Pa.) Community Colleges, a two-campus system in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. She has also worked for three other community colleges in Maryland and New Jersey.

She said her leadership experience and passion for the community college mission qualify her for the new position at Montgomery College.

“I think I have an interesting mix of experiences and a breadth and depth of experiences that’s somewhat unique,” she said. “My entire career, I’ve somehow found my way to be the leader of strategic planning and self-study initiatives.”

Stout cited several success stories from her work in community college administration, which included her efforts to foster growth in distance learning programs and establish dual-credit programs in which high school students earn college credit for their studies.

Vicki Duggan, Montgomery College deputy chief information officer, said at the forum that Stout did a good job articulating a community college president’s dual role of serving students and being a liaison to the community.

“[Dr. Stout] talked about the commitment to the students, being the leader for students and making sure the academic institution serves the students, and also the external (role), to make sure that the community college is linked externally to the community.”

Stout highlighted her past successes at getting local businesses involved in projects to benefit community colleges.

“As president, I need to be very aggressive, very creative, very persistent and very entrepreneurial,” she said.

She said a community college must be all things to all people.

“We are built to have mission mania,” she said. “That’s what makes us unique as community colleges. There’s no sector of higher education that’s anything like this. Isn’t that great? The fundamental mission is to provide access to higher education for all those in our community that could benefit from the experience.”

Stout, a graying brunette, said she dabbles in poetry but would be too embarrassed to read her work to the college faculty. She said she plays the guitar and is passionate about the arts as part of community college studies.

She fumbled over some thorny questions about teacher dissatisfaction and collective-bargaining in the college, saying she did not know the specifics of the situation. But she did outline a plan for her first six months if hired as president.

“A new president has a wonderful challenge and a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “I would use the first six months to really study the institution, to listen.”

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