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Sierra College president reflects on leadership role

Willy Duncan named to position in May
By: Gloria Beverage, Placer Herald Editor
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On July 1, William “Willy” Duncan became the sixth president in the 75-year history of Sierra College.
Born and raised in Bakersfield, Duncan left his position as president of Taft College in California’s Central Valley to accept the leadership role of Sierra College.
Six months into the job, Duncan talks about his vision for the community college as well as the funding challenges facing the college’s leadership team.
In some cases, his answers have been shortened or paraphrased.

What’s your vision for Sierra College?
Sierra College has great record of student transfers to four-year colleges or universities. I would love to be able to say we’re No. 1 in student success. I want to look at ways to help support our students and make them successful.
In the first five months I’ve been reaching out to industry and business leaders to talk about their needs. We want to collaborate with businesses to build our programs.
Through Valley Vision, we can determine what jobs are going to be available here. I can take that data and bring it to Sierra College so we can look at what programs we have and what students are going to need.
We already have a program, Career Connections, set up that links businesses with students. And we have interns going out to every kind of job.
We just can’t look to Sacramento for more money, so we need to develop resources on our own that help make our programs more sustainable.
The state budget situation has resulted in a 10- to 12-percent reduction in state funding over the last three or four years. And yet, we have the lowest fees in the region for a community college. We’ve tried to eliminate everywhere else we can, but we still have had to cut classes. Priority goes to those close to graduation. But those students need to be pro-active and watch deadlines (for class registration).

At Taft College, you were responsible for bringing in some innovative programs (i.e., the Transition to Independent Living Program). What new programs do you envision bringing to Rocklin? Grass Valley?
First of all, I wasn’t responsible for bringing those programs on board. I helped build what is there today.
The MIND Institute (which does research on neurodevelopment disorders) is the brainpower in this area. They would be hugely interested in a program like the one at Taft. I would love to engage the community in that discussion. How do we serve that population that would come to us and needs that opportunity?
At Sierra College, I see the allied health field as a huge growth area. This region is blessed with incredible health care and the field will develop substantially. I see Sierra College playing a big role in providing a trained workforce, particularly with the aging population in the region.

Why do you believe in the community college system?
I have worked in the community college system for 14 years and fell in love with what they do. We provide access to a vast majority of students wanting higher education. The upper 10 percent of students go to a UC; the upper 30 percent go to CSU’s. Everybody else, including students who go on to UCs and CSU’s, start at the community college.
It’s lso probably the easiest and best access for students who want to get job training skills right away. They don’t have to get an A.A. They can get a certificate and make a very good living in many fields. We’re training students to be employable.

What are the favorite parts of your role as President of Sierra College?
One of the things I love about my job is the interaction with people on the campus. I see and talk with students on a daily basis and have regular contact with staff.
And what an incredibly diverse, unique community this is — from the urban Sacramento area to some of the rural areas and the uniqueness of Auburn.
It’s got to be the friendliest area I’ve ever been in. Rather than feeling competitive, everyone wants to help me be successful.
My biggest challenge has been building that network of people and understanding how everything fits together.