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Pollard Calls for Montgomery College to Be "Most Relevant"

At inauguration new president pledges innovation and a focus on creating a path for students

With an emphasis on working together through trying times when community colleges have taken on heightened importance and a higher profile nationally, Montgomery College formally welcomed DeRionne P. Pollard at her inauguration as the ninth president in the college's 64-year history on Friday in Rockville.

"My mission for Montgomery College is a simple one," Pollard said. "It is for Montgomery College to become the most relevant community college in the country by meeting the needs of our students and our community."

Pollard took the reins on Aug. 2 after being tapped to lead the college following a national search by the college's Board of Trustees. She formerly was president of Las Positas College in Livermore, CA.

She arrived in Montgomery County at a time when the  institution was in desperate need of a strong leader. Eleven months before Pollard's arrival the school's trustees ousted President Brian K. Johnson after he received a vote of no confidence from the college's faculty.

Johnson's two-and-a-half year administration was fraught with allegations that he overspent on lavish trips and other expenses and that he was a no-show at his office and for meetings with public officials, including Gov. Martin O'Malley. Faculty and staff also described an uneasy relationship with Johnson who defended his administration in a 2009 article in the Washington Post.

The college that Pollard inherited must meet multiple challenges. Early this month, President Barack Obama and Jill Biden, a community college professor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, hosted a White House summit on community colleges that highlighted two-year institutions as a crucial part of preparing America's workforce for a global economy.

In remarks at Friday's ceremony, U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington touted $2 billion in competitive grants that Congress approved this spring to help community colleges provide skills training that meets industry demands.

Van Hollen said Pollard "assumes responsibility at a critical time in our country and in our college," adding that over the next decade 8 in 10 newly created jobs are projected to require higher education or workforce training.

The economic recession left more people turning to community colleges as a way to update job skills and to get a relatively more affordable education than at four-year institutions.

"The economy is down, but for Montgomery College that means our business is up," said Douglas M. Firstenberg, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Montgomery College Foundation.

The foundation raised $3 million in 2009 and already more than $1 million in 2010. It provides scholarships for 750 students, but was unable to meet the scholarship demands of another 3,000 people this year, Firstenberg said.

In that demand lies opportunity, Pollard said in her inaugural address.

"Community colleges are potentially the most transformative institutions in contemporary America," she said.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said that he was impressed by Pollard when during a conversation with the new president she emphasized not what Leggett could do for her, but "what we can do together."

"Her success depends on all of us engaging in this endeavor," Leggett said.

In her address, Pollard drew applause with a call for "individual learning plans" to guide student progress and urged employers to hire and promote employees who earn associate's degrees.

She also announced the creation of an Innovation Fund to create "sustainable, systemic, intentional organizational improvements at Montgomery College."

The fund will allow the college to use "research and development that benefits student learning," Pollard said.

The Webber Family Foundation has donated the first funding for the initiative and an application process will begin in January, she said.

"If we give our faculty and staff the opportunity to innovate, if we shake things up — if we think creatively — then we will be more abundant than ever, even in the midst of challenging times," Pollard said.

Montgomery College serves nearly 60,000 students a year in more than 100 credit and noncredit programs of study across campuses in Germantown, Rockville and Takoma Park/Silver Spring. Its enrollment is second only to the University of Maryland, College Park among Maryland undergraduate institutions.

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