Central Oregon Community College may have its new president, pending contract negotiations: Laurie Chesley, a community college vice president in Michigan, is the COCC board of directors’ first choice to replace outgoing president Shirley Metcalf.
Chesley has been an administrator at multiple community colleges and four-year universities in Michigan and Pennsylvania for 18 years, and serves as the provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan.
At a Friday meeting, the COCC board of directors voted to have Chairwoman Laura Craska Cooper negotiate a contract with Chesley, and a group of COCC representatives will fly to Grand Rapids to talk with faculty, staff and students at Chesley’s current school.
Craska Cooper said one thing that made Chesley stand out was that she had a strong interest in COCC and researched the college, despite living far away.
“She’s coming from across the country, and there’s always an inherent skepticism of why would someone uproot themselves from 2,000 miles away to come here,” she said. “She was pretty convincing that she chose COCC, she referred to it as the ‘Goldilocks Institution’ — not too big, not too small, just the right size and the right culture and values for her.”
When she visited Central Oregon last week to talk with COCC staff, administrators, students and the public, Chesley said if chosen as the college’s president, she would use her years of administrative experience at community colleges and four-year universities to strengthen COCC’s connection with nearby Oregon State University-Cascades and other four-year universities by easing the transfer process.
She said she hoped to expand online courses and foster an environment in the region that would encourage more residents to take higher education courses.
“That’s the long game: helping establish a college-going culture, and helping folks understand the value of a higher-ed credential,” Chesley said last week. “It is not just getting a bachelor’s degree in English. That’s okay, too, but it’s more than that.”
Craska Cooper cited this experience in both types of higher education as another distinguishing factor in Chesley’s favor.
“Being able to understand how we can work better with a four-year institution can only be for the benefit of our students,” she said Friday.
Chesley was the right pick for COCC because her values lined up with the board’s values, Craska Cooper said.
“She has a real commitment to student success, fiscal responsibility and stability, and workforce development,” she said. “Those are the things that are priorities to the college right now.”
Chesley was chosen over two other finalists — Kimberlee Messina, former president of Foothill College in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Tod Treat, interim vice president for instruction at Wenatchee Valley College in Central Washington.
If contract negotiations are successful, Chesley will become COCC’s sixth president and second woman to hold the office.
Her appointment will be officially announced at a future meeting, likely within the next week, according to college spokesperson Ron Paradis.
She will take over from Metcalf, who is retiring after a five-year term, July 1.
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