“Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’ and I live by that,” says Theresa Felder, president of Harford Community College. Felder, 55, took the job Jan. 1 and is the first Black president in the school’s 64-year history. She was the first in her family to attend college, having graduated from Syracuse and earned her doctorate at Northeastern.
Here are three things you might want to know about Felder:
She took years to find her true calling.
“I discovered my passion later in life. I’d been an accountant, and I was 40 when I decided that this is my pathway. I think that’s a plus. I’m not just steeped in the traditions of higher education; I have skills that help me think a little bit outside of the box.”
Her parents are her heroes.
“My dad, who was lifelong Army, worked two jobs, day and night. Mom worked nights in a hospital as a nurse’s aide, then saw her four children off to school, slept for three or four hours and kept a spotless home. The work ethic that they passed on to us has been the foundation to our success.
“They took us to church and taught us to be not only religious but good people as well. We learned to ‘pray that everything depends on God and work like it depends on you’ — and to be willing to outwork everyone.
”My everyday heroes are those single-parent students who come to school after work to try and change the trajectories of their lives and those of their children. They are the motivation for me to do the work that I do.”
Exercise and cooking help her fend off stress.
“I go to cycling and Zumba classes and lift weights several times a week; it puts balance in my life.
“Two years ago, I adopted a plant-based diet because heart disease and diabetes run in my family. I make a big pot of beans every week and I’m finding more variety in this regimen of fruit, whole grains and legumes than when I was eating lots of meat. For Thanksgiving, I cooked turkey and ham for the family, while I ate the sides — collard greens, mashed potatoes, corn and dressing. I didn’t feel deprived at all.”