February 20, 2012

KVCC president stays put

FAIRFIELD -- Kennebec Valley Community College President Barbara Woodlee has been busy since she announced her retirement in the summer of 2010.

click image to enlarge

President Barbara Woodlee sits recently in her office at Kennebec County Community College in Fairfield. Woodlee has seen major improvements to the college since announcing her plans to retire two years ago, and a failure to find a suitable replacement for her means she will continue at the helm for now.

Staff photo by David Leaming

After two national searches for a successor didn't yield a viable candidate, Woodlee agreed to stay on the job.

And it's not as if the 65-year-old has been biding her time. Woodlee, who has been with KVCC 36 years, starts her work days around 5 a.m. reading and responding to email -- she said she does her best writing in the early morning.

By 7:30 or 8 a.m., the first of a stream of meetings begins.

Woodlee said she will again address retirement with system President John Fitzsimmons when the time is right, but for now she's relishing being a part of a college on the move.

Literally and figuratively on the move.

KVCC, sited on about 65 acres on Western Avenue, acquired 690 acres and 13 buildings from Good Will-Hinckley in mid-January after the Harold Alfond Foundation gave $10.85 million to the Maine Community College System and Good Will-Hinckley.

The college system used $4.5 million of that gift to buy the property on U.S. Route 201 adjacent to the Kennebec River. Good Will-Hinckley was a residential school that served at-risk young people until core operations on the 2,450-acre campus closed the summer of 2009.

The property purchase will allow KVCC to expand its campus, enrollment and course offerings.

The money came at an ideal time for KVCC.

From 2003 to 2011, the combined enrollment of the college system's seven institutions grew 83 percent, from 10,127 to 18,548, and demand for classes was starting to exceed availability.

KVCC had the largest student population increase -- 6.5 percent -- from 2010 to 2011. In October, 2,606 students were attending classes at KVCC.

With the addition of the new north campus, the college expects to increase its enrollment to 5,000.

The college is also the site of some cutting-edge programs.

Woodlee credited the college's teaching staff for the innovative successes.

"The faculty are deeply involved in their endeavors and fields," she said. "They push the bar."

Last week, the college unveiled its new health-care simulation laboratory.

The state-of-the-art lab will serve the college's nursing and allied health departments, which include more than a dozen health-care programs.

Last month, the college launched its early childhood education associate degree program. Because many classes are offered online, the program's geographic reach has been expanded while student travel has been reduced.

In October, the college commissioned its 80-foot, 5-kilowatt wind turbine on Western Avenue.

Administrators said in addition to providing the Muriel P. Frye building with electric power, the turbine is a teaching tool for students learning about small wind power systems design and installation.

In August, the college celebrated its newly instituted Northeast Solar Heating and Cooling Instructor Training Project.

The Department of Energy hand-picked the college to be one of nine regional resource and training sites to improve the quality and availability of training in solar systems installation.

Woodlee, who also is a part-time chief academic officer for the Maine Community College System, joined the college in 1976 as director of adult education at then-Kennebec Valley Vocational Technical Institute.

She knows well the value of a community college education. She earned a doctorate in higher education administration from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., but she initially earned a two-year degree from Cazenovia College in New York.

"I never planned or imagined being a community college president, but through a series of circumstances and opportunities I have been blessed to be here," said Woodlee, whose salary is $122,403. "There could not be a better place to work."

When Woodlee ultimately does retire, she said, she'll look to begin a new chapter.

In addition to spending time with her family, she said reading will be a priority.

"I have stacks of books I haven't gotten to," Woodlee said.

Beth Staples -- 861-9252

bstaples@centralmaine.com

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