With the growth, recovery and expansion happening right now and increased recognition of the economic strength and influence of community colleges at the local, state and national levels, Delgado Community College’s new Chancellor Joan Y. Davis says she couldn’t imagine a better time to be in New Orleans or a better institution to lead than Delgado.
by Anitra D. Brown
When she sat down for this interview, Joan Davis had been in New Orleans serving as Delgado Community College’s chancellor for nearly two months, having arrived in early July.
But her office inside the City Park campus’ administration building seemed to tell a different story. The walls were nearly bare, except for her degrees that hung directly across from her desk. A single book and a Delgado mug adorned the shelves of an otherwise empty bookcase. There was not even a lone plant in the entire room.
There is a good reason, however, for all of the sparsely decorated space in Davis’ place of work. Joan Davis is now the leader of the state’s largest and oldest community college—one that is growing and expanding its role in education and workforce development throughout region even as it continues to make it post-Katrina recovery. Since starting at Delgado, she has presided over the official opening of a new campus, welcomed faculty, staff and students to the start of a new semester, met with community and political leaders, and received exciting news about the approval of more than $250 million in bonds to fund expansion of facilities and programs.
Who has time for decorating?
After arriving in the city, she focused on two things—“finding a place to lay her head” and “hitting the ground running.” She has made the rounds, appeared on local media, and visited each of Delgado’s campuses across the metro area to chat with faculty, staff and students.
“I am depending on faculty, staff and students to help me determine what the next level is. I want this to be a collaborative effort,” she says. “And I have met with local legislators, community members, government leaders and as many of the movers and shakers as I possibly can. I have been embraced and welcomed, and that makes my job lot easier. I have enjoyed every moment of it.”
Recently, she and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond talked to small businesses owners, entrepreneurs and exhibitors at the opening session of the fourth annual Small Business Expo on the Delgado City Park campus, a day-long event that Richmond holds yearly in conjunction with DCC.
A Passion for Education
The Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors selected Davis as Delgado Community College’s chancellor in May. At the time, she was serving as the interim president of Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
At the time of her appointment in a printed statement, Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Monty Sullivan had this to say about Davis: “She is a proven leader who has worked at the system level and institution level for many years. She brings a very unique combination of skills and experiences having served as a system president, college president, attorney and educational and workforce development professional. Her background and experience will be invaluable in leading Delgado Community College at this critical moment, as the college continues to work to meet the needs of the Greater New Orleans region.”
An attorney by training, Davis has also served as director of the Alabama Technology Network (ATN), and as general counsel and vice-chancellor for Legal and Human Resources at the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education. For nine years, she served as legal counsel to the Alabama State Board of Education, the system’s chancellor, and major administrators. During her tenure with the department, she also served as Interim Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.
Her roles as general counsel for the Alabama Department Postsecondary Education and counsel for the Alabama State Board of Education allowed her love for the law and education to meld, says the Alabama native, adding that she practically grew up on the campus of Stillman College, a historically Black school in Tuscaloosa where her parents worked as administrators. That experience fueled a passion for education, and although she went into law, when she was asked to serve as the interim leader at Shelton and as interim chancellor for ACCS, she could not say “no”.
Because of her interim status at Shelton, Davis could not be considered for the permanent position. Still, she was looking for a new challenge that would allow her to continue similar work. Soon a colleague would mention to her the Delgado Community College was looking for a new leader.
And Davis seized the moment.
“The more I read about Delgado, the more I wanted to be a part,” she says. And while she won’t put any limits on just how long she hopes to remain a part of the DCC family, Davis says she plans to stay at the helm of the community college “for as long as I think I am making a difference. I want to make New Orleans my home for a good, long while.”
She says she sees many similarities not only between Delgado and Shelton, which are both community colleges focused on preparing students to continue their educations at four-year colleges while also offering skills and training programs and certifications in high-demand industries to meet the area workforce needs, but she couldn’t help but to also note the parallels between New Orleans and Tuscaloosa, chief of which is the fact that both cities have had to rebound following catastrophic natural disasters.
Now that she is here, her mission, the job she says she believes will be easy to do, is simple—guide Delgado Community College from “excellence to eminence”.
“I found (Delgado) in a really good place,” she says. “But there is always room for improvement.”
Even if Davis is right about her job not being difficult, the task ahead is certainly monumental. In addition to the City Park campus, Delgado Community College includes Delgado West Bank Campus, Delgado Charity School of Nursing, Delgado Sidney Collier, Delgado at UNO, and the Delgado Maritime, Fire and Industrial Training Facility, Delgado Northshore in Slidell, Delgado Jefferson in Metairie, and the Jefferson Business and Career Solutions Center in Gretna. The college, which enrolled more than 18,000 students last fall, serves a 10-parish region. According to a 2009 economic impact study, DCC has an economic impact of more than $450 million, a return of nearly $12.50 for every one of the more than $36 million invested in it by the state.
And with more expansion and growth to facilities and programs on the way, Davis says her goal will be to make certain that everything keeps happening the way it is supposed to happen. She holds her legal training responsible for the analytical way she examines and examines opportunities and challenges. She likes to dissect things to make certain she can put them back together again, she says. It’s that type of pragmatic, logical approach she will bring to her role as Delgado’s top leader.
All of This is About to Happen
In July, $252 million in bonds were approved to fund workforce-related projects at community colleges throughout Louisiana, including several at Delgado and will impact the New Orleans region.
“I get to come in just as all of this is about to happen,” Davis says.
During the first phase of the projects, Delgado will introduce new facilities at three campuses at costs of more than $37 million, including $10.2 million in renovation and equipment purchases to transform the old Artworks Building on Howard Avenue into the college’s new Culinary Arts and Hospitality Institute; a new $16 million facility at its River City campus that will serve students enrolled in programs that support the local maritime and transportation industries; and an $11 million expansion to Delgado’s training facility for advanced manufacturing at Avondale Shipyard.
In Phase 2, Delgado’s Westbank, Blair and Charity Nursing School campuses will receive about a total of about $60 million for expansion projects. And Davis says she is excited about what the expansion plans mean for skilled workforce development for the region.
“We’re trying to train people to get the highest paying jobs possible so that they can have the best life possible,” she says. “We’ve got a lot going on here. It’s an exciting time to be a community college and an exciting time to be in New Orleans.”
To be sure, Delgado Community College is on the move, and while some of its expansion efforts are still underway, the community college has also celebrated one milestone with the opening of the first phase of DCC’s Sidney Collier campus on Louisa Street. In late August, a ribbon-cutting was held to officially recognize the opening of the new Delgado Sidney Collier campus at 3727 Louisa Street in New Orleans. Sidney Collier had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina and was subsequently demolished. The ceremony began at 9:52 a.m. on August 29 to commemorate of the time flooding began in the area during Katrina nine years ago.
The Delgado’s Sidney Collier campus is a $21 million facility, with $12 million provided through the state and $9 million through FEMA. The location is being constructed in two phases, the first, which is open now, was financed by the state. Construction of the federally financed phase is now underway and is expected to conclude in 2015. When all construction is completed next year, the new Delgado Sidney Collier site will be anchored by two connected two-story buildings with a main entrance facing the corner of Louisa Street and Higgins Boulevard. Right now, there is 36,000 square feet of space for classrooms, offices and support functions such as information technology. When the second phase is complete, there will be an additional 25,000 square feet dedicated to student services, including a library and student government offices, as well as classrooms, workshops and laboratories. The completed design includes a courtyard, dedicated space for future expansion, and approximately 100,000 square feet of landscaped grounds and parking.
In addition to associate degree and technical diploma programs, Delgado Sidney Collier offers dual enrollment at Delgado to area high school students.
“For nearly a decade, August 29 has been a date that New Orleanians who experienced the devastation of the 2005 flood associate with loss, with pain, and with anger. Those emotions will be with us always,” Davis said at the ribbon cutting. “However, today . . . we celebrate the arrival of something new that has been built literally upon the ruins of a precious resource that was taken away suddenly and completely. Today, we celebrate the rebirth of this community, and of the dream of improvement through education that this beautiful campus represents.”