A Conversation with the New Board Chair

On February 19, 2018, Dr. Pam Eddinger, President of Bunker Hill Community College, began her role as the new Chair of the Achieving the Dream Board of Directors. She succeeds Dr. Robert G. Templin Jr., who served in the position since 2011.

Dr. Eddinger immigrated with her family to the United States from Hong Kong at the age of 11 and grew up in Miami, Florida. She earned a master’s degree and doctorate in Modern Japanese Literature from Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College. She has led community colleges in a number of positions since 1993 in the areas of academic affairs, student services, institutional advancement, and public relations. She was appointed President of Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) in 2013. BHCC is the largest community college in Massachusetts, serving 19,000 learners annually; 65 percent of whom are people of color and more than 50 percent are women. BHCC was designated as an ATD Leader College in 2011 and was a co-winner of Achieving the Dream’s highest honor, the Leah Meyer Austin Award, in 2014.

Dr. Eddinger serves on several local and national boards, including Boston Private Industry Council, the K-12 School Improvement non-profit EdVestors, the National Asian/Pacific Islander Council (NAPIC), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Workforce Development Board and the WGHB Board of Trustees. She also holds membership in a number of education-related organizations including the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) Oversight Board, and AACC’s Special Commission on Leadership and Professional Development. In 2016, she was honored by the Obama White House as a "Champion of Change" for her work expanding college education to underrepresented groups.

Can you share a bit about your background?

I lived the experience that many of our students live: I was the first person in my family to go to college. I came by it as an accidental tourist. No one should have to come to college that way. My parents came to the United States when they were in their 30s. My father was a waiter; my mom was a garment worker who did piece work at home so she can be with the children. Some generations give, some receive, my siblings and I received the gifts of their sacrifice. My parents’ lives could have been so different had they enrolled at Miami Dade Community College. They were talented people, yet they gave up their opportunities to focus on their children.  My parents made sure that my brother and sister and I all went to college.  Even back then, they knew education meant social and economic mobility. I didn’t start out wanting to be a college president. My first job, actually, was at a community college in public relations while I was pursuing my doctorate at Columbia. One day, soon after I earned my doctorate, I was sitting around the table with the college president and some deans when the president said to me, “I just let the provost go. Pam, you’re the only one with a Ph.D., you be provost for a while.” So that was my start in higher education administration.

What are your motivations for serving on the ATD Board?

Achieving the Dream is at the center of the best conversation in the community college movement. I am eager to be part of the learning, and to help shape the conversation. The centrality of ATD is evident in the urgent conversation Karen Stout and her team is conducting about data, about integrated support, and about leadership. Those things coming together will catapult us into the next stage of our work: ATD 2.0, a new strategic vision within our Network. I’m there to support Karen and her team and the implementation magic that will transform the field. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of Achieving the Dream, and it’s only going to get better.

“I’ve been chasing ATD around for years and finally caught up with it when I came to Bunker Hill Community College. The Network is exactly what I thought it would be.”  — President Pam Eddinger

What are the benefits for colleges participating in the Achieving the Dream Network?

BHCC has been in ATD since 2007, before I arrived as president. We originally came into the Network to look at best practices and to give impetus to our own work around equity and closing the achievement gap. The Network is exactly what I thought it would be, recognizing what colleges have to do to be ready for students, rather than wanting students to be ready for us.  Many of our students are first in their family to attend college. The secret language of college is hidden from them. It’s important that we provide support- a path. The ATD Network is where I can find like-minded educators who are dealing with the same challenges, experiencing the same joy of learning. Whether it is coaches, critiques or proven practices, it’s all here.  The Network is generous and giving.  There is a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose. The Network gives me guidance and tools that my institution can use in our particular place in our own reform.

What signs do you see of Achieving the Dream transforming the field?

There are many signs at my own college. One is learning communities. We know that students learn better in cohorts, so we created learning communities with curriculum that is culturally relevant and locally based for our students. ATD helps us track progress and pushes us to do thorough research. Our retention rate is up, which makes a positive difference in our students’ lives.

Another sign is ATD’s use of coaching. It is a powerful self-reflection tool to help the president and the senior team to lead change across an organization that is transformational. The most recent sign that ATD is transforming the field is the launching of ICAT (Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool), an institutional inventory tool that gives voice to every group on campus, and allows the leadership team to get an integrated look into the college’s core capacities.  To self-reflect and to improve, to understand that learning is iterative -- that is the hallmarks of a mature institution.  And that is the power of transformative that ATD delivers.  That is transforming the field.

I am also seeing changes in how the field conducts conversations about reform.  Organizations that are leading the conversations, like AACC, CCRC, Aspen, and ATD are coming together to share research and to challenge one another.  Each have a special narrative, whether it is ATD leading OER and coaching work, or Aspen’s focus on talent development.  The conversations are converging and enriching, and our students are better for it.

What trends and issues are community colleges facing and how do you see ATD responding to supporting colleges in facing those challenges?

Let’s try three, shall we?

First, building and maintaining a culture of evidence and data is important. ATD’s legacy is in understanding the power of data: we insisted on the primacy of data, and the need for courageous conversations if we want to improve the achievement gap.  I believe that the next phase of ATD’s work will not only accelerate the work of retention and closing the achievement gap, but also to examine and define the metrics of success beyond completion.

Second, integrated student support.  Education is a three-legged table: financial stability, integrated student support, and curricular excellence.  We are working hard on basic needs and financial aid; we are working hard on developmental education reform and academic pathways.  But without integrated student support, all may be for naught. These are the supports and guardrails our students need to succeed. 

Third, with ATD’s launching of ICAT, coaching conversations about leadership and transformational change will become even richer. The tool gives leaders insights into the climate of their colleges, and allows them to shore up foundational capacities that make for positive organizational culture.  It’s about having a map for your leadership quest; a source of light for the journey.  That, and a coach for a guide!

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