07/16/14 — Dr. Albertson reflects on her role at WCC

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Dr. Albertson reflects on her role at WCC

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 16, 2014 1:46 PM

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Dr. Kay Alberton laughs during a President's Council meeting at Wayne Community College Tuesday in the Dogwood Building.

July marks seven years since Dr. Kay Albertson was named the first woman president of Wayne Community College.

The self-described "high energy" administrator has lost none of her enthusiasm for the role.

What she has done is added a new facet -- mentor.

In the '70s and '80s, when her career was just starting out, she recalls how different things were for women. It was much more competitive, she said.

"Women did hold back. You were fighting for all the elements. Even though you knew you were as good as, as capable as, as competent as," she said. "And we don't need to do that any more."

These days, there are more women in the marketplace and more willingness to encourage one another.

"You see women everywhere. I think this community is a perfect example of that," she said. "I think of Wayne County and I think of female leadership that has come forward over the past 30 years, and we do support each other.

"I see that happening -- and the younger generation doesn't even think about that competition. I credit women of my generation with helping them be more fearless."

That is not to say that there aren't throwbacks to an earlier time, she said, sharing one of her favorite illustrations.

"I can walk across the campus and people still make comments about, 'She's having a good hair day or a bad hair day' and 'What's she wearing?' No one does that to our men presidents," she said.

"People still judge me by how I look rather than what I'm doing.

"I don't get upset any more. I just smile and think, it's just part of the role. But I do think people take me seriously. I think you have to get beyond those outward things."

Another stigma she has battled is the perception of the community college, which has likewise evolved over time.

"One of the things that the community college system in general, and that's nationwide, has done is it has to tell its story better. And if there's a thing that I'm proud of, we have come a long way at Wayne Community College in telling our story better," she said.

"We even changed our mission statement to say that we want to be the first choice of education. I think that's a powerful statement.

"Not the last choice, not the only choice. When you get on this campus, you see what we do offer and not just what we offer, but the end product. We have got strong end products, and I'm very, very proud, that WCC is a good first choice in higher education."

The college has much to be proud of, she said, from excellent programs that lead to jobs to consistent success in other areas.

"We're one of six in the 58 (community college system) that did not have lower enrollment over the last two years," she said, pointing out that the numbers, in fact, grew during that period, with over 4,000 curriculum students. "That's beautiful for a community that really hasn't grown.

"Everyone reflects on the economy. That has something to do with it. But other community colleges, other communities had a poor economy, too, and their enrollments dropped."

As college administrator, there are "a lot of pieces," she said, but fortunately she is someone who likes to connect the dots. Being responsible for 300 full-time employees, another 300 part-time staff and an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 students on the campus at any given time, the accountability is staggering, she says -- at the state and national levels, and it constantly changes. But none of that stacks up to the challenges faced by the students at WCC, many of them the first in their family to attend or graduate from college, she said. "It's like society has dropped them here with as many challenges as you can possibly think of -- not just financial. It's all that other stuff," she said. "Because community colleges aren't that old idea of ivy growing on 300-year-old buildings. These are students who are working, these are students who do have family responsibilities."

Those same students -- all ages, backgrounds and needs -- are "absolutely" her favorite part of the job, the president said.

"When I start to lose focus about what our mission really is and what my role really is, I seek out students," she said.

"Those success stories, those accomplishments, even the struggles, and students help me get back in focus.

"When I need to really get back into what the importance of my role is, I have to talk to a student." Mrs. Albertson may go down in WCC history as being its "first woman president," but she'd like think part of her legacy will be what she passes on to others. "I really appreciate that I could open the door for future women to serve in roles of leadership here at the college. We have a lot of women who are serving in leadership roles," she said.

"I think because of my leadership role, I have been able to mentor others. Not just at WCC but in the community in a different way than perhaps I would have had an opportunity to do before, and that's exciting."