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Howard Community College selects Daria Willis as first African American president in its 51-year history

The Howard Community College board of trustees on Thursday unanimously appointed Daria Willis as the fifth president of the college, making her the first African American to lead the college in its 51-year history.

Willis, 37, who currently serves as president of Everett Community College in Washington, will be succeeding Kate Hetherington, who retired Oct. 1 after serving for 14 years as president, according to a news release.

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Lynn Coleman, vice president of administration and finance, will continue to serve as interim president until Willis starts her presidency on Jan. 10.

“Howard is probably one of the most amazing colleges I’ve had an opportunity to become acquainted with,” Willis said. “As soon as I had the opportunity to interview and then the opportunity to come to campus, I knew instantly that this was the place that I wanted to be.”

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At Everett, Willis manages a $73 million budget and oversees an institution with 840 employees, according to the release. The college’s 2020 annual report showed an enrollment of 18,168 students for the 2019-20 school year.

Total enrollment for fiscal 2020 at Howard Community College was 26,627 students, according to the most recent college data. There were 14,314 students receiving credit and 12,313 students not receiving credit but taking classes. The community college has 2,577 employees and had a $123.1 million operating budget for fiscal 2020.

Daria Willis will start her term as Howard Community College's fifth president beginning Jan. 10, 2022.
Daria Willis will start her term as Howard Community College's fifth president beginning Jan. 10, 2022. (Courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

Among her presidential accomplishments are the adoption of the Guided Pathways framework across Everett to help close achievement gaps and promote student success and achievement, the collaborative leadership of a new advising model to assist students with course selection and degree completion, and the completion of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities mid-cycle review process for accreditation.

She also secured $43.5 million from the Washington legislature to fund a new Learning Resource Center that broke ground in September.

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Under her leadership, Everett received $2.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to support programs for students of color and low-income or disabled students.

A $50,000 Rise Prize grant and part of a $100,000 Washington Department of Labor grant went to the development and launch of a Weekend College for adult students and student parents.

“The trustees were impressed with Dr. Willis’ energy and accomplishments, her commitment to students and their education, and her steadfast focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in her work,” Christopher Marasco, chair of Howard Community College’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “We look forward to working alongside her as she leads Howard Community College into the future.”

Willis earned her doctorate in history from Florida State University. She holds a master’s degree in history and a bachelor’s degree in history education from Florida A&M University, a historically Black college in Florida.

She and her husband, Isiah David Brown, have three children: a daughter, Lyric, who plans to attend Howard Community College in the spring, 9-year-old son Isiah and 3-year-old daughter Imani.

Willis said during her time as president at Howard Community College she hopes to provide opportunities for students.

“Howard Community College is an excellent institution; they are innovative, they are creative, they are flexible and they’re ready to charge right into the future,” Willis said. “I want to make sure that we are able to keep those doors open and provide pathways to success for all our students as Howard has done for 51 years.”

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