POWELL, Wyoming — Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa took her rural sensibilities to the big city Monday, April 20, to speak at the American Association of Community Colleges Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
The AACC annual meeting attracts over 2,000 community college presidents and senior administrators, as well as international educators, representatives of business/industry and federal agencies. It’s considered one of the largest and most dynamic gatherings for community college interests.
Hicswa served on a panel titled “Your First Presidency—The Minority Serving or Rural Institution—A President’s Perspective.” Others on the panel were Alicia Harvey Smith, president of River Valley Community College in New Hampshire, and Lawrence Rouse, president of James Sprunt Community College in North Carolina.
The minority-serving presidential perspective was provided by Smith and Rouse; Hicswa fielded questions dealing with rural institutions.
In her presentation, the NWC leader focused on the relationship between college and community, pointing out that over the past 20 years, leaders of national organizations have explored the capacity of community college presidents to serve as community development agents.
By responding to development needs and building social capital, community college presidents serve a crucial role in rural areas. In addition to identifying and addressing critical community concerns, rural community college presidents must work proactively with community leaders to explore the relationship between education and community wellbeing.
Hicswa’s research of rural community colleges, which included Northwest College, indicates community college presidents create hope in rural communities through leadership, enhancing capacity and agency, and implementing a comprehensive vision. Her research demonstrates that in rural areas, the community college mission is broader than responsiveness and service to the community; the role of rural community college presidents is to create hope.
Hicswa intentionally chose to focus her career path on serving rural community colleges in general and Northwest College in particular. During her well-received AACC presentation, she stressed the importance of having strong leaders serve in executive positions at rural community colleges. She claimed this is not only important for the college, it is important for the continued vitality of rural America.
Her own leadership experience in Miles City, Montana, and Park County, Wyoming, allowed her to give comprehensive answers to several specific questions about the role of a college president in a rural community.