Sporting navy-blue culottes and a blonde, shoulder-length bob, Pamela R. Edington, EdD, strides briskly down the corridors of Bowne Hall, the administration building of Dutchess Community College (DCC) in Poughkeepsie, appearing to talk, move, and think at twice the speed of most people. Perhaps that’s why the married mother of two grown daughters has accomplished so much, not just since becoming DCC’s first woman president in August 2014, but throughout her life and career.
“I have been a community-college educator for 30 years,” Dr. Edington says, and, though she may be DCC’s first woman president, that achievement should not come as a surprise — at least not to those who are familiar with her strength and tenacity. “I did want to be a president, to lead an institution that was strong, but where I would bring something special to the institution,” she reflects. And when she researched DCC, she realized that the Hudson Valley felt “very familiar to me, because it’s a beautiful place to live and rich in history, like Connecticut.”
DCC already had a lot going for it when Dr. Edington arrived from Norwalk Community College, where she served as Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs. Set on a ridge overlooking the mountains to the east, the college boasts a beautiful tree-lined campus filled with $2.7 million worth of contemporary art. It has a reputation for excellence, and at $3,360 (non-residents) per year, the lowest tuition of any community college in the state. It attracts outstanding students from Dutchess County by offering the tuition-free Charles and Mabel Conklin Scholarship for Academic Excellence to the top 10 percent of students in each high school’s graduating class.
Still, Dr. Edington believes she can take DCC to the next level, and is already making significant strides. Last year, she put together a successful bid for a $2.6 million grant from New York State’s Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) just weeks after starting the job in August. The winning proposal focused on electrical engineering and was put together with the help of Dr. Nicole Williams, superintendent of the Poughkeepsie City School District, and local industry partners Central Hudson, IBM, and engineering firm Chazen & Companies.
P-TECH’s goal is to prepare students for high-skill jobs by moving 9th graders through a six-year program with special classes, internships, and industry mentoring, ultimately giving students a tuition-free associate’s degree. Fifty students from Poughkeepsie City School District entered DCC’s P-TECH program this summer, and, each fall, 50 more will come online. Only 10 community colleges in New York State were chosen in 2014. “It’s a real coup for our school,” says Dr. Edington.
Dr. Edington also began work on a Service Learning program, in which students work with local nonprofit organizations to enrich their practical knowledge. “It’s a much more powerful learning experience” than classroom work alone, she says.
To launch DCC’s Service Learning program, Dr. Edington invited more than two dozen local nonprofits to brainstorm with professors about how they could collaborate. The Child Care Council of Dutchess & Putnam asked for assistance with fundraising — projects tailor-made for DCC’s business and early childhood departments. The Catharine Street Community Center needs to develop client surveys and analyze demographic trends. The sociology, human services, and communications departments are ready with student energy, ideas, and manpower.
To make sure the ideas become a reality, Dr. Edington created the position of coordinator of service learning to facilitate those partnerships, which get underway this fall. “We’ll have hundreds of DCC students serving while they are learning,” she beams. “Students get hands-on learning, make contacts that can lead to job offers, and find out if they really want to go into that field.”
Dr. Edington has always admired Eleanor Roosevelt and the impact she had on the world. When she moved into the president’s home on campus, she discovered that a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt and the first president’s wife, Betty Hall, was hanging on the wall in the dining room.
She learned that when DCC’s first president, Dr. James Hall, and his wife were unpacking, they got a call that Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to pay a visit. She came over for lunch, they took the photo, and it’s been hanging in the dining room ever since. Knowing that Mrs. Roosevelt visited the campus many times to talk about her domestic and international work, and had actually visited the house where she now lives, is an ongoing source of inspiration to Dr. Edington. Another inspiration? The fact that three powerful women’s organizations — American Association of University Women (AAUW), League of Women Voters, and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) — were the ones that advocated for the creation of Dutchess Community College back in 1957. “Now, almost 60 years later, we have our first female president,” she reflects. “We’re making progress.”