Bradley Ebersole holds a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a doctorate leading to a decades-long career in higher education, and everything started for him when he graduated from a Maryland community college.
Ebersole, president of Washington State Community College, which serves Washington County, Ohio and is based in the county seat of Marietta, is one of four finalists to become the new president of Harford Community College when current HCC President Dennis Golladay retires in July.
"I always say, a community college is a wonderful place to start your life or continue what you're doing and I should know because I'm a community college graduate, and it has served me very well," Ebersole, a graduate of Catonsville Community College, said late Thursday afternoon during a community forum at HCC.
Each finalist has been featured in a one-hour forum this week, in which people could learn more about their backgrounds and their visions for HCC, as well as asking questions.
Ted Lewis, a Tennessee community college official, spoke Monday, Greg Feulner, a Harford County resident and attorney for Johns Hopkins University, spoke Tuesday, and Dianna Phillips, CEO of the University of the District of Columbia-Community College, spoke Wednesday.
Ebersole has been president of Washington State Community College for four years. He is the former vice chancellor for academic affairs at Baton Rouge Community College in Baton Rouge, La., and he spent 25 years as a teacher and administrator with the Community College of Baltimore County.
"I've had four years of a successful presidency," he said.
Despite that, Ebersole noted that "I am a Marylander, so it brings you home," regarding the opening of HCC's top job.
Ebersole grew up in Baltimore County. His wife Gail is a retired Baltimore County Public Schools administrator.
He said she is "very engaged in the community" where they live now in Marietta, Ohio, serving on the boards of the local United Way chapter and Arts Council.
Ebersole is also active in his community, serving as the face of his college and being a member of the local chamber of commerce and economic development boards, as well as the Rotary.
The current president, Dennis Golladay, plans to retire in July of 2016 after having led HCC since the summer of 2010.
"Harford Community College, from what I've seen, and from people I've talked to, is a very good school," Ebersole said.
Ebersole spent Thursday visiting campus and talking with members of the Board of Trustees, staff, faculty and students. He has also conducted research on the college and reviewed its budget.
"I've been interviewing the staff as much as they've been interviewing me," he said.
He discussed at length his initiatives to improve student success in his current post, as well as to raise funds in the community, connect with alumni and assist with economic development, as southeastern Ohio has been suffering from economic and population decline in recent years.
He has also had to deal with declining enrollment at Washington State and the challenge of keeping the school financially solvent, which he said he has done during his tenure.
"We have a good board," he said. "They understand what the college is about and what we're trying to do."
Ebersole has also been successful in fundraising by netting "several million dollars" for capital improvements on campus, a 5 percent increase in state financial support and $1.5 million in grants, according to a biography provided during the forum.
He said Washington State is in the process of hiring a director for its foundation, and he has been in position of asking for money for the foundation.
"I like that work, and I like asking for money," he said. "It's easy for me to do that."
Paul Majewski, a member of the HCC Foundation board, asked Ebersole if he would be able to draw on his contacts outside Harford County and outside Maryland when fundraising for Harford Community College.
"I believe networking and relationships brings in those big checks," Majewski said.
Ebersole said he would first get to know Harford County and build relationships locally before branching outside the county.
He noted one asset in fundraising is that "I know community colleges inside and out."
"I know what their challenges are, I know what their successes are," he continued.
Ebersole said he has worked at Washington State to help students keep their tuition debt low, and pushed for financial literacy courses.
He said community college students often graduate carrying about $12,000 worth of debt, and the figure is even higher for graduates of four-year schools.
He said college officials must help their graduates avoid defaulting on their student loans, since if more than 30 percent of graduates default, the federal government puts a college on probation, which then puts its federal financial aid stream at risk.
Ebersole also addressed recent protests on campuses around the country, such as the University of Missouri and Yale University, in an effort to improve the climate for minority students who report incidents of racist threats and harassment.
The protests in Missouri have forced the resignations of university system leaders.
Ebersole said he spoke to a small group of HCC students, most of them minority, about how welcome they feel on campus.
He said the students reported, overall, that they feel like the belong at HCC. Ebersole stressed that "all students need to feel that they belong," and faculty, staff, students and the community must be engaged in making colleges even more inclusive places.
"This college is here to serve everybody in this community, every adult that wants to improve their lives," Ebersole said of HCC.
There were 23 people at Thursday's forum, which has been the average for the four. Attendees have included current and former HCC board members, college faculty and staff, foundation and alumni association representatives and leaders of various community groups.
A handful of people attended all four meetings.
The Rev. John Richardson, a resident of Havre de Grace and the treasurer for the Harford County branch of the NAACP, said the forums have given him a clearer picture of the duties of HCC's president.
"It gives us some insight into what [the candidate] sees as most important, and shares some of his vision for the school," Richardson said.
Pat Perluke, who lives near Bel Air and is a member of the HCC Foundation board, served on the college's Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1995 and was part of the hiring process for two HCC presidents.
"Actually meeting the person and hearing what they have to say is very critical in making the decision," she said of the forums.
Perluke said she though the search firm hired by the college, Academic Search Inc. of Washington, D.C., did "a great job" in selecting the four finalists.
"They matched up pretty well to the kinds of skills the candidate would need to be president of Harford Community College," Perluke said.
The HCC Board of Trustees will make the final decision about hiring a new president. Board Chair James Valdes wants to have an offer made and a new president identified by the end of December, HCC spokesperson Nancy Dysard said Thursday.
Board members will discuss the selection in closed session during their meeting early next week, after which they still must work out more details regarding making a final offer and negotiating terms with the candidate, Dysard said.