Oakton Community College President Joianne L. Smith challenged crowd of nearly 600 people at her inauguration Friday to shift the college’s model from providing access to promoting both access and success.
“We must not only invite students to join our community, we must give them a reason to stay connected, and to complete their degree or certificate – to imagine their story and to help them see it through,” Smith said. “There should be a happy ending. A goal met. A credential earned. A great job that follows.”
Smith said Oakton and other higher education institutions across the country face challenges in delivering on that promise — a disinvestment in public higher education, changing demographics, and the demands for transparency and accountability — which, she said, underscore the need to change.
“Just like the courageous leaders of our past, who identified the need for a new kind of higher education institution, we now need to be courageous. We need to examine our policies, procedures, and structures and challenge ourselves to make the changes necessary to create equity in our practices so that we see equity in our outcomes,” Smith said.
“I want Oakton Community College to be known as the college where all students succeed, regardless of their racial/ethnic backgrounds, income levels, or college readiness,” Smith said. “I want us to be known in our community as the place where students come to transform their lives. And, when our students find greater success, our community will thrive.”
Already, Smith has Oakton collectively focused on student success, with an ambitious goal of improving fall-to-fall student persistence rates by nine percent. She also noted recent partnerships with local businesses such as Abt Electronics and Woodward MPC that created apprenticeship programs and pathways to careers for Oakton students while bolstering the local economy.
Selected as Oakton’s fourth president in March after an extensive national search, Smith assumed the presidency July 1. She succeeds Margaret Burke Lee, who retired after serving 20 years in that role. William A. Koehnline, served from 1970-84, and Thomas TenHoeve succeeded him from 1984-95.
Smith’s presidency follows 13 years of service to Oakton as dean of students and later vice president for Student Affairs. Her prior higher educational experience includes serving as assistant director of university residence life at Northwestern University and dean of Brainerd Commons at Middlebury College in Vermont. She also has worked as a licensed psychologist.
Smith earned both her doctorate and master’s degrees in counseling psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University after earning her bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she graduated summa cum laude.