Belinda S. Miles, PhD, has just taken over as president of Westchester Community College, the largest college in Westchester. Born in Queens and now a New Rochelle transplant, Miles previously served as provost and executive vice president of Access, Learning, and Success at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, where she led efforts to improve success rates for college readiness and graduation. She chatted with us to share her plans for WCC’s 26,000 students students.
Q: What drew you to this position at Westchester Community College?
A: Throughout my career, I have been devoted to education and opportunity. I am an advocate for open access institutions such as Westchester Community College that develop talent and create pathways to opportunities. The demand for community college graduates is increasing and we have a part to play here in Westchester; I was drawn to the college because of its wonderful reputation and the opportunity to help meet this need.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as the WCC’s new president?
A: Student success is at the forefront of all community colleges, and we are no exception. As the largest college in the county, a tremendous number of students rely on us to help shepherd them through college as they expand their minds before moving on to careers and further study at four-year universities. One of my primary goals is to make it easier for these students to enroll, thrive in their classes, and earn credentials as a foundation for moving on to jobs in the local workforce or bachelor’s or more advanced degrees elsewhere.
Q: How do you make sure WCC is adequately serving its large and diverse student body?
A: We offer more than 65 academic degrees, including new programs in areas such as cybersecurity and environmental studies. Our faculty and academic leaders are always looking to improve our existing academic programs, staying abreast of changes in various industries and researching new majors that would appeal to local employers. If we do our job in providing viable educational opportunities for our incoming students, then they will be able to succeed after graduation by starting new careers, retooling for new growth areas, or moving on to some of the nation’s leading four-year institutions. An awareness of trends is key here, along with the ability to adapt to those trends quickly.
Q: What are some of the challenges you expect to face in this new role?
A: We are committed to continuing our role as the county’s most accessible and most affordable institution, which means that we rely on consistent county, state, and federal support in order to keep tuition low. Now, more than ever, there is increased demand for this sort of financial investment, so we are always seeking opportunities to tell our story regionally and nationally to those who are interested in the many ways that the college is grooming tomorrow’s workforce.
Q: How would you describe your leadership philosophy?
A: Listening skills are important—particularly when one is starting a new job and especially one of this scope. The role of a college president is to help form a vision for the institution and to empower others to help make that vision a reality. The first few months have been a whirlwind of meetings, events, and planning sessions. I have learned a lot about Westchester and plan to continue my open door policy and keep listening while I work together with my team and with business and community leaders on a new vision for the institution.
Q: How do you plan to work with Westchester’s business community?
A: We will continue to build upon our existing relationships with the Westchester County Association and the Business Council of Westchester, along with other local business organizations. Also, we will continue to look for ways to expand our training options for those currently employed at Westchester businesses. Our credit and non-credit courses are affordable options for those who seek to start first or new careers, and our Professional Development Center (contract training unit) works with business leaders to provide training for those already in the workforce who need new skills for their current jobs or for new positions.