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WKCTC taps new leader, bids farewell to beloved president

BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAIT gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com

A

fter 14 years under the leadership of founding president Dr. Barbara Veazey, West Kentucky Community and Technical College will enter the new year with a new president: Dr. Anton Reece.

Reece has over 20 years of experience in higher education, the first 13 with WKCTC.

He started out at what was then Paducah Community College in 1990 as a minority affairs coordinator and counselor. By the time he joined the administrative team at University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2003, he was WKCTC's dean of student affairs and enrollment.

"Dr. Reece brings a broad range of experience to West Kentucky," said Dr. Jay Box, Kentucky Community and Technical College System president. "He's a proven leader who will be a good fit because he knows the college and the community. I'm pleased to welcome him back to WKCTC."

An 11-member search committee, including five community members, five faculty and staff and WKCTC Board of Directors Chairwoman Dr. Shirley Menendez, recommended Reece to Box in late August at the conclusion of a national search. Box approved.

In a statement following his hiring announcement, Reece said he's honored to be the next president of WKCTC.

"I'm thrilled to come back to WKCTC and continue the legacy of excellence this college has achieved as one of the best in the nation," he said. "One of my top priorities is meeting with business leaders to learn how WKCTC can continue to meet the ever-changing technology and training needs of local business and industry."

He'll begin his duties as WKCTC president Oct. 1.

Before being tapped as the college's next leader, Reece opened himself up to public questions along with three other finalists during forums Aug. 18 and 19. One audience member asked the same question of every candidate: "You're following a legend, a beloved leader. As president, how will you honor the past, but continue to move this college forward and position it for the future?"

Reece was ready with his answer.

"It is a challenge. There's always going to be that comparison and contrast," Reece said. "For the past 13 years, clearly we can all see there's been incredible growth here at the college. But there are opportunities for expanded growth, and I look forward to those new frontiers and being a part of shaping and contributing to what that looks like. We'll build on Barbara, but I'm Anton, and I'll bring my unique spin."

Building on Barbara

Following Veazey, Reece has a solid foundation to build upon at WKCTC.

Veazey was the first woman to lead Paducah Community College and the founding president of the consolidated WKCTC. College board members selected Veazey 14 years ago from within the school's own ranks after conducting a national search for a new president.

Under Veazey's guidance WKCTC grew and adapted to meet western Kentucky's ever-evolving needs, becoming one of the very best two-year institutions in the nation. Just last year the college came in second for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, marking the third consecutive time WKCTC was recognized as a finalist.

Before retiring June 30, Veazey said WKCTC's "culture of excellence" was her proudest accomplishment in her time leading the college. It's what made her feel like WKCTC could continue excelling without her, no matter the challenges.

In her time as president Veazey also helped forge numerous public-private partnerships in the community that have played a key role in the college's growth.

From the completion of the Paducah School of Art and Design and the Inland Logistics and Marine Institute to the launch of the Community Scholarship Program, none of WKCTC's crown jewels would have been possible without community support.

In Veazey's final days as president she took every opportunity she could to remind the WKCTC community of its guiding vision and mission: an equitable education. The equity is evident in the college's 48 percent graduation/transfer rate, compared with only 40 percent nationally, and the fact that there is no gap in graduation rates for students of color, a rare feat.

"It's in our vision statement," Veazey said. "Even though we're having a lot of cuts and times are hard, we didn't cut that. The vision was for innovative, equitable initiatives that foster the success of all students. We all believed in it. We put it in writing. Things can and will change, but the true essence of your college doesn't. It's going to be OK, because the heart and soul of the college is still here."

Reece looking to the future

Reece is ready to carry on WKCTC's mission of equity for all students.

During the late August forums Reece spoke at length about the importance of supporting minority students, first-generation learners and non-traditional students, and gave examples of his time at UT of new ways to do so. If you recruit them, you have a responsibility to support them, he said. It's not enough to espouse equity in mission, you have to back it up with action, too.

He also made it clear that he intends to go after the Top Community College distinction from the Aspen Institute. It isn't just an award, he said. It's a national recognition that would be a powerful tool in recruiting national and international industry to western Kentucky.

"I'm wanting to start first with the community, because the college is centered and rooted in the community," Reece said. "The community's success is the college's success and vice versa."

Reece spoke to Paducah's declining population and the potential for WKCTC to play a part in reversing that trend.

"We've got to stop the attrition," he said. "How do we stop young talent from drifting to other areas? What is behind that? Why do they leave the area -- jobs and earnings, right? Don't forget the social aspects. â ¦ All of these elements come into play in terms of young, progressive people of any race remaining in an area. They'll go where the opportunities are. We have to champion the progression of young people in the area."

Reece also pointed out that while WKCTC made incredible strides in Veazey's tenure, that success is also the college's greatest challenge.

"Success is a funny thing," he said. "I want to make sure we don't fall asleep at the wheel and rest on the national ranking and the great things we've done. We want to be positioned, ready, adaptable, flexible, but focused."

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