Sharon Pierce knows all about the turmoil that has rocked Minneapolis Community and Technical College over the past few years:
Complaints of racial discrimination. Financial struggles. A no-confidence vote against a previous president.
But on Wednesday, Pierce said she felt “very privileged” to be named the newest president of MCTC, after 26 years at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md. Her appointment, which takes effect July 1, became official Wednesday morning, when it was approved by the board of trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. The problems — or challenges, as Pierce prefers to call them — “are exactly the things that attracted me to MCTC,” she said in an interview. “They are really opportunities to make a large difference.”
Pierce has been vice president for academic affairs at Howard, a community college about the same size as MCTC, since 2010. She joined Howard as an adjunct instructor of nursing in 1990 and worked her way up to a series of top positions, including chairwoman of the health sciences division. She has a doctorate in education from Morgan State University in Baltimore.
“It was sort of a natural progression for me,” she said of her transition from nurse to college administrator. Each step, she said, was a way to “have a broader impact.”
Pierce said she hopes to address some of MCTC’s most pressing concerns, including improving retention rates. “When I was reading the MCTC accreditation report, I could see it was a priority,” she said. About 40 percent of students who started in the fall of 2013 dropped out, at least temporarily, by the next school year.
Often, she said, students leave for financial or other reasons, “and then they lose momentum.” One goal is to help more students stick it out from semester to semester, to boost their chances of graduating.
She noted that students at MCTC, one of the state’s most racially diverse college campuses, “would like to see more diversity in terms of the faculty. So recruiting and retaining diverse faculty, I think, is important for the institution.”
In 2012, complaints about racial discrimination and other problems prompted the faculty union to pass a vote of no confidence in then-president Phil Davis, who had led the school since 1998. He left in 2014 to become an associate vice chancellor at MnSCU. Since then, Avelino Mills-Novoa has been interim president.
Pierce said she’s eager to build on “the momentum that they’ve experienced over the last two years.”
“There’s been a great deal of healing; I want to continue that,” she said. “The challenges are big, but that makes the victories all the sweeter.”