Recently appointed Mass Bay Community College President David Podell, PhD, who stepped to the helm in July, has been busy settling into his offices at the 55-year-old Wellesley institution, but still made time to sit down with some members of the media, including The Swellesley Report. On topic: his vision for the three-campus MassBay system (there are also locations in Framingham and Ashland), what brought him here, and how the school fits in with the larger Wellesley community.
Dr. Podell joins the college as MassBay’s sixth president since the school’s founding in 1961, bringing with him a long academic administrative background. He was Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York for six years, and served as VP for Academic Affairs at Marymount Manhattan College for eight years. Before that, he spent 28 years, mostly at Staten Island, as a tenured educator in psychology, concentrating on cognitive and emotional disabilities.
If you’re noticing a career-long trend that leans toward public higher education, then you’ve got a view into what makes him tick. Podell has spent most of his administrative career serving a population generally made up of the first generation in their families to go to college, a place they see as their entree into higher education, economic progress, and the middle class.
Although his personal educational background is in private schools — he lists University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and NYU as the places where he was educated — he says he loves the dual mission of public colleges: access and excellence. That passion for public education is part of what convinced him to decamp to the leafy green suburbs of Massachusetts and take the top position at Mass Bay after 36 years of living in Brooklyn.
“MassBay is about opportunity. The students have to do the work. We have to facilitate them achieving their goals. We want to reduce barriers at every turn,” he says.
To achieve that, he says that the 2-year college of 6,000 students divided evenly between part- and full-timers, strives toward a seamless process of entering, registration, and financial aid, focusing on the student experience. “We have a great faculty, we don’t need to fix that,” he says. “We need to pay attention to what the Massachusetts workforce needs.”
Being all about Wellesley, I wondered what MassBay had that the Wellesley workforce needs. Plenty, it turns out. MassBay has partnered with the Town of Wellesley to offer community education and professional development opportunities for Town of Wellesley Employees. The curriculum is provided by MassBay’s Center for Corporate Training and Community Education and offers courses such as AHA Heartsaver & CPR; Conversational Spanish; and Introduction to Word/Excel/PowerPoint 2016, to name a few.
Course tuition for this new program is free for the employee and the $50 – $150 course fees will be covered by the Town of Wellesley. The college expects about 25 – 30 participants to enroll in one or more classes during the 2016 – 2017 academic year.
Available to Wellesley High School students is MassBay’s dual-enrollment program. If you’re suffering from the sticker shock of 4-year private institutions that run upward of $65k/year for tuition, room, and board, and long to defray that cost, you could follow the lead of street- and book-smart WHS 2015 grad Matt Jablonski, who has studied at the University of Washington, and Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He took advantage of the State-wide program that allows high school students to take classes at MassBay (and other State public educational institutions), at low cost. What’s more, they walk away with high school and college credits, which they can transfer to agreeable colleges and universities, thus shaving potentially tens of thousands of dollars off the price of their college education.
To take a page out of Jablonski’s text book, candidates must be Massachusetts residents; currently enrolled in grade 9–12 in a Massachusetts public secondary school or non-public school, including home school; must have at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA on a 4-point scale; and must take MassBay placement tests and place into college level math and/or English courses (check with your guidance counselor for specifics on that one).
Another Wellesley resident who has taken advantage of MassBay’s opportunities is Stacy Okada, who earlier this year was named a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, the largest and most prestigious scholarship for community college students in the country. The award includes up to $40,000 each year for up to three years to cover tuition and school-related expenses to complete her bachelor’s degrees at four-year institution. In addition, she is also the only community college student in the nation this year to receive the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the highest national undergraduate prize for Science, Engineering, and Mathematics.
But there’s more. Okada has also been awarded the Foster Furcolo Scholarship, which is awarded to one graduate of each public community college in Massachusetts to attend UMass Boston covering tuition and most mandatory fees. The married mother of two will attend University of Massachusetts Boston in the fall to study Biochemistry, and plans to pursue a doctorate in either Molecular Biology or Biochemistry.
It hasn’t taken Podell long to look at success stories like Okada’s, and those of MassBay’s Biotechnology and Forensic Science Department’s other 21 Goldwater recipients, and start to crave new labs and other goodies for the department that has garnered so many wins for the school. He wants to build on that success, perhaps by moving the current biotech labs from the Wellesley campus to a new space he hopes to find in Framingham. To do that he says he must deal with the fact that the Framingham campus lease is up in 2019. “We need a permanent space at Framingham,” he said.
Podell is looking for a permanent space of his own. After decades of New York City living, Dr. Podell lives in Natick now and is looking to buy in that town, which he says he finds peaceful. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about route 9 traffic during the holiday season. And I resisted the urge to get sassy and demand to know why he was rejecting Wellesley as a place to live. Why spoil his honeymoon with the area?