GBCC President Q&A: Dr. Cheryl Lesser
In March 2022, Lesser brought her 30 plus years of educational leadership experience to Great Bay.
Beginning in March 2022, Dr. Cheryl Lesser brought her 30 plus years of educational leadership experience to serve as the next president of Great Bay Community College. Here is a Q&A to learn about her and her vision for GBCC.
What led you to a career in education and how did your career pathway start? Since a young age, I have always wanted to be a teacher and had various early experiences such as teaching clarinet and swimming. I was inspired by my mother who had a love for education and had plans of being a teacher. While her dream of working in a school didn’t come to fruition, she was a teacher to my brother and I, supporting us, keeping us focused and helping us learn. This instilled my love of education when I started as a high school teacher, before the natural progression from a community college modern language faculty and holding several leadership roles as a dean, vice president and now president of GBCC.
Please talk about your leadership experience at community colleges. Nearly my entire career as an educator has been working in various roles at local community colleges. I started out as a Spanish and French faculty member before moving to dean then vice president of academic affairs. I have enjoyed my time working throughout the years at several community colleges as this has provided me a variety of experiences that have shaped who I am and the president that I want to be.
What is your experience with mentoring? Mentoring is a huge part of my life and something that I have formally and informally done for years. I think it is extremely important to provide support, guidance and insight to help someone succeed just the same way that I was helped through the years. As an educational leader, I take every opportunity that I can to help others along the way.
What drew you to GBCC and what makes it so unique? The GBCC community has a passion and compassion to help students succeed. The college centers around a positivity, hope and as a community the desire to be better and do better. There is such a wonderful camaraderie that’s very special among the staff, faculty and students that is welcoming and inviting, with a willingness to help and support each other in any way.
What are your goals and focus areas for the college over the next year? Focusing on student success and academic excellence in all that we do. Improving internal relationships so we are sustainable. Having a great culture and being financially stable along with expanding our external relationships with the community to meet workforce needs. The people who work here and the community we serve are critically important to helping us serve our students. Threading diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) into everything that we do to be a better college both in our internal culture and within the community. I am also driven to work on programing at our Rochester campus. We have a very successful welding program there and will be looking to bring other programs there that are a foundational to the community.
How do you plan to engage with local businesses? A lot of this has already started organically. I hold a board position on the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce and have been interacting with them and their members. I have connected with our Great Bay Advisory Board, which is comprised of leaders from various industries, to get their input on how to make the college even more relevant to workforce needs and move the college forward. I’m inviting the community here to see our campus through different meetings and events and will continue to also go out into the community to make connections and be available. We are focused on these connections in order to meet workforce needs regionally and throughout the state of New Hampshire.
What approach will you take with high schools to attract seniors after graduation? We are determined to connect with high schools in the area and provide a pathway to certificates and degrees. We work with Career Technical Education (CTE) Centers to make connections with students and inspire them to continue their college education in the path that they are already studying or choose a different route. We will be continuing the Soar to Success program, a five-day boot camp, to build leadership and academic skills for high school graduates to help ease the transition into college. Additionally, we are bringing more athletic programs and camps on campus for families so they can experience GBCC and hopefully positively impact their college plans later in life.
How have the past two years impacted how community colleges will operate and educate in the future? Utilizing technology and incorporating remote learning into our academic programming, we have transitioned all of our classrooms in Portsmouth to be high flex, giving us the capability to teach someone in person and online at the same time. The college has adapted to technology for student advising and other services allowing for convenience and flexibility for our students.
How have you been engaging with the campus community? I have made it an ongoing priority to walk around and meet faculty, staff and students, attend campus events and committee meetings to interact and learn what everyone does. I want to know everybody’s name and how everything works so I engage in every way I can. I have spent a lot of time in the front lobby, the cafeteria and dropping in at college events, athletic activities and the student hang-out areas to connect and engage.
What do you see as innovative opportunities or practices in higher ed that you may want to bring to GBCC? Utilizing more digital credentialing and badging, which is something that we are already doing, and I envision will be incorporated into all industries and careers. It is skill oriented and it easily documents the learning concepts for students that employers are looking for in a digital world. Additionally, adapting the way we deliver education and being as creative as possible, whether it is in modalities like remote, hybrid, high flex, condensing course lengths, and stacking credentials. I think that is the innovative direction that we have to continue heading in.
Anything new and exciting planned for the summer or fall semesters? We are all so excited about our Gather partnership to provide space for the organization to meet its mission while at the same time establish a cafeteria/restaurant for our community. We are expanding athletics and are planning more in person engagement opportunities for students on campus. Starting in the fall, we will be offering a new degree program in Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
As someone who is returning to New England, what do you like most about New Hampshire and the seacoast? I love the lakes and the mountains and one of my first trips back in the state was to the ocean. My husband and I love to take day trips to travel back roads through the amazingly beautiful state and enjoy the scenery. The restaurants are amazing and I enjoy trying new foods and eating at new places.
What are your hobbies and personal interests? I love traveling locally with my husband. We love the outdoors whether that is on trails or at dog parks with our Husky named Sox, kayaking or golfing. I am also a big reader and enjoy sitting down with a good book.
What is your biggest accomplishment? I’m proud of so many things along the way, from my daughter who is an amazing woman, to becoming president of a community college. As an administrator, it is all about impacting students in different ways personally and academically for individual growth. The individual student stories are the proudest accomplishments that I have and I am looking forward to adding more from GBCC.