NORMAL — A community college should be a “key partner” in helping its community grow and move forward, a finalist for president at Heartland Community College said at a public forum on Monday.

“A strong college equals a strong community,” said Keith Cornille, executive vice president and chief student services officer at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin. “A community college is situated to be the key catalyst for a community.”

Positioned between K-12 schools and universities, community colleges should “create a seamless progression of education to move a community forward,” said Cornille.

That includes not only academic programs but also workforce development and career training. “There are a lot of jobs that require that kind of training,” he said.

Heartland President Rob Widmer is retiring, effective June 30. Cornille is the last of four finalists to take part in two days of meeting with board members, students, faculty, staff and the public.

Board Chairman Gregg Chadwick said trustees will have a special meeting next week to review the feedback and “see if the board is going in one direction” and, if so, “then we can start negotiating.”

In his current post since July 2016, Cornille has been an administrator at the Wisconsin college since August 2000. He has a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Edgewood College in Madison.

Cornille said he decided to seek the presidency at Heartland because it is strong economically and a young institution with innovative faculty. He said Heartland has “a solid foundation” and is ripe for opportunity and growth.

Cornille grew up in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn and much of his family remains in the Midwest — another reason he cited for seeking the Heartland position. He has been a finalist for president at community colleges in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Growing up with 10 brothers and sisters, Cornille said he learned a lot from his parents — lessons he still follows.

Cornille said his parents taught him and his siblings the importance of hard work and being accountable. They also taught him that strong communication means listening to each other, he said.

“They taught us that you dealt with conflict when it is in front of you … rather than let it fester,” said Cornille. “They taught us to address injustices wherever we saw them.”

In addition to Cornille, the other finalists are: Doug Minter, Heartland's vice president of business services; Sherry Jones, chief operating officer of the Technology Brands division of GameStop; and Melinda Tejada, vice president of student development at Waubonsee Community College.

Chadwick said, “We have four very different candidates that all bring something that would be good for the college.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter @Pg_Sobota