Dianna Phillips, one of four finalists to become the next president of Harford Community College, said a mentor once told her to look at a school's "boards, buildings and budgets" as indicators of its health, as she charted her career as an educator and administrator.
When asked during a community forum Wednesday why she wants to lead HCC, Phillips said the college's Board of Trustees, facilities and budget are all indicators of a vibrant and healthy institution, based on her tour of campus, interaction with faculty and board members and a review of the college's budget.
"I would say Harford has all of those things, neatly tied up with a little bow," she told the 22 people gathered to hear about her background and ask questions.
The CEO of the University of the District of Columbia-Community College in Washington, Phillips has spent more than 20 years in higher education. She is a former dean of technical education at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y. and was the executive vice president for educational services for Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County, N.J., before she became head of the UDC-Community College.
Phillips was also an active-duty member of the Navy for 14 years, working as a communications specialist, according to a copy of her biography provided during the forum.
Harford Community College officials are searching for the successor to current President Dennis Golladay, who has headed the college since 2010 and plans to retire in July of 2016.
Phillips noted she knows Golladay from his time working in higher education in New York State and has remained in touch with him.
"I had a sense of the health of the institution when I decided to apply," she said of HCC. "It's a fabulous place."
Phillips was the third of the four finalists to meet this week in a forum with the HCC community and the general public. Greg Feulner, a lawyer at John's Hopkins University who lives in Harford County and has a wide ranging career in business, was in Tuesday's forum; Ted Lewis, a vice president for academic affairs at a Tennessee community college, was in Monday.
Bradley J. Ebersole will appear for a forum starting at 4 p.m. Thursday in Dining Room South at the Chesapeake Center.
Phillips described herself as a "servant leader," based on the management philosophy of Robert Greenleaf. Greenleaf worked for AT&T from the 1920s to the 1960s, where he was an executive and management trainer.
He later became a writer and consultant, promoting the idea of servant leadership, according to a biography posted on the website of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
"The fundamental premise of servant leadership is that you are in service to others as a leader, and I try to model that behavior in everything that I do," Phillips said.
Phillips said she works to create "a collegial environment" for campus faculty, staff and administrators, maintain shared governance among college employees and ensure the institutions are as transparent as possible for students.
"We create a community where we care for each other," she said.
Phillips said people who work for community colleges "are scholars, we are thinkers, we are doers, and so we come together in community and create a community for ourselves and model the behavior that we're trying to inspire in our students, and the community in general."
She noted community colleges are "about really, fundamentally, the role of democracy," because they are open to students of "all walks of life," regardless of their race or economic backgrounds.
"We come to this place, this college, this campus, in the peaceful pursuit of knowledge," she added.
Phillips also addressed the challenges facing community colleges in terms of boosting enrollment and marketing to all segments of their communities since the recession, saying that they did not have to consider "strategic enrollment" initiatives in the past, "because you opened your arms wide" to any potential student.
Phillips said she and other leaders at Brookdale Community College partnered with Monmouth County, N.J., officials to conduct a detailed study of the local population and demographics to determine what part of the community the college could serve that it had not served before.
Two sectors were high school students "with choice," those whose grades were good enough that they could choose a four-year university over their home community college, and Monmouth's growing Latino population. Brookdale leaders then did some internal restructuring and shifted resources around to better serve those groups.
"We have to recognize things are changing and change our strategy in accordance with that," Phillips said.
Phillips said the college was able to "stabilize enrollment," and more students of choice are attending after graduating high school, and Brookdale has hired bilingual faculty and staff to better serve Hispanic students. The process took more than a year to study, plan and implement.
Phillips said a community college president must be the face of the college and work with state and local leaders on matters such as economic development and training a local workforce that would attract new businesses and industry.
"I think it's really about relationship building, and reciprocal relationships," she said.
Sheila Allen, a professor in HCC's teacher education department, asked Phillips how she spends a typical day.
Phillips said she tries to be out around campus and connect with faculty and students as much as possible. She holds town hall meetings with students, and works closely with student government organizations.
She even took a group of students on a trip to Italy.