NORMAL — A finalist for president at Heartland Community College said she would encourage her staff to get involved as volunteers with nonprofit organizations to better connect with the community.
Melinda Tejada, vice president of student development at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, made the comment during a public question-and-answer session Thursday in the Astroth Community Education Center on the Raab Road campus.
Tejada is the first of four finalists for president to come to campus for two days of tours and meetings with faculty, staff and students. Current President Rob Widmer is retiring June 30.
Tejada has been in her current position since March 2012 and joined the Waubonsee staff in 1988. She said the college's president asks each vice president to serve on the board of at least one off-campus organization, but Tejada said it's something she would do anyway.
Her community involvement includes service on the Fox Valley United Way Allocations Committee, Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry Advisory Committee and Association for Individual Development Board.
Tejada said it's something she would encourage all her staff to do.
“It works best if you find your passion and match that,” she said, rather than seeing it as an assignment.
Tejada said being active in the community helps people see her as one of the faces of Waubonsee and makes her more approachable.
Community involvement also helps in developing partnerships that can help the college and its students, she said.
“It's always been my goal to leverage opportunities for our students,” said Tejada.
She sees communication and the ability to connect with people among her strengths.
Tejada said several challenges face community colleges and universities today.
“We're in an education bubble, much like we experienced a housing bubble,” she said.
Students are starting to question the cost of education, said Tejada, and “we need to show there is a return on investment in education.”
Higher education, in general, has to make sure “we're still relevant,” she said.
Tejada has been at Waubonsee since 1988, starting out as a counselor in student support services. She has served in various student life and student development administrative roles since 1994.
She didn't think about becoming a college president until about six years ago.
She said Heartland feels like a “good fit,” citing the college's commitment to student access and student success.
Tejada has a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction from Northern Illinois University, a master's degree in counseling psychology from George Williams College in Downers Grove and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Murray State University in Murray, Ky.
Although presidential duties would make it difficult to teach a class, Tejada said, she would like to be a guest lecturer.
“I like to be with students. I like to be in the classroom,” she said.