Westchester Community College in Valhalla has had steady, visionary, and energetic leadership from one individual for four decades.
Quiet and unassuming in person—and driven in practice—Dr. Joseph N. Hankin holds the distinction of being the longest serving community college president in the nation.
He also began as the country's youngest, starting as president of Harford Junior College in Bel Air, MD, at the age of 26.
He served in that capacity for almost five years and then assumed the presidency of Westchester Community College in 1971.
Now, the college celebrates Hankin’s 40th anniversary and the role he has played in steering the institution through many changes.
His stewardship has resulted in the creation of one of the nation’s largest educational institutions, with over 60 academic programs offered on the college’s main campus in Valhalla, at five extension centers in the county, and at dozens of locations where the college offers classes throughout Westchester.
And it is precisely this expansion of educational opportunities of which Dr. Hankin is most proud: “Accessibility is my most important achievement. When I first came to the college, there was a barbed wire fence around it. After I accepted the position, one of the first things I did was tear that fence down so we would be more accessible to the public.”
That was just one of a series of innovations that he has put into place over the years. Among others: the college expanded its resources for mature adults, and now offers classes through Mainstream, the Institute for Mature Adults, and Collegium, which offers high-level educational options for lifelong learners; the Continuing Education Division has resulted in tremendous growth —it is now the largest such program in the state of New York.
In 1986, the College opened an on-site day-care facility, the Virginia Marx Children’s Center, and later, a Native Plant Center, “the first national affiliate of Lady Bird Johnson’s Wildflower Foundation,” notes Dr. Hankin. His early and ongoing support of online education has resulted in a rapid expansion in this area well, “so we offer a lot of what we offered when I started, just in different, innovative combinations and through a lot of new programs and courses,” he said.
Last year, WCC christened the opening of the Gateway Center, a 70,000-square-foot landmark structure to provide educational resources for thousands of students in an innovative way. It will be the home for the college’s ESL program, various business programs, corporate education and more.
“This idea of pooling a lot of resources into one building and working toward synergy between immigrants, new citizens and our various business programs, is unique to the area,” said Dr. Hankin.
All of these enhancements and offerings get to the heart of what Dr. Hankin feels a community college is all about: “Classes for vocation and avocation. We provide the means for individuals to improve themselves,” he said. “(Here) they take affordable classes to make something of themselves. Some go on directly to careers, others move on to four-year institutions. Still others just take a class or two to get more meaning out of life.”
Indeed, Westchester Community College has proved itself an excellent stepping stone for those looking to move on to careers or further education. A recent survey of graduates showed that 61.5 percent transferred to other colleges and universities (including Ivy Leagues), while 61.1 percent were employed within six months of graduating. And even more of them moved on to college and careers later. Dr. Hankin makes it a point to involve himself with his students, faculty and the community. “Dr. Hankin serves as an exemplary leader, advisor and mentor to me and many others. For this, we owe him a significant debt of gratitude,” says Professor Rick Hyland, current faculty member and past student of the College.
Encouraged by the president’s interest in supporting students, the Westchester Community College Foundation now awards $1 million in student scholarships annually. During his tenure, the college’s faculty and professional staff have received more SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence than any similarly-sized institution.
“There’s a lot more to do,” Dr. Hankin continued. “Even though we opened the Gateway Center, we still need more classroom space on the main campus in Valhalla since we’re close to our record enrollment. We need to do a better job getting support from government…with more government funding, we can move tuition even lower. Another direction we would like to continue to move toward is more innovative programming.” Toward that end, the college has just reworked its journalism program, added a veterinary tech program; and more programs are on the way.
Does he foresee a day when he’ll be ready to retire? “I’m having too much fun to retire! No, seriously, no plans to retire now or in the near future. I started as the country’s youngest college president. It might be nice to retire as the oldest someday!”
If you want to join the celebration:
Dr. Joseph Hankin 40th Anniversary Festival
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
5:30 pm -8:30 pm
The Gateway Center at Westchester Community College, Valhalla, NY
Gifts will contribute to scholarships though a special fund in honor of Dr. Hankin. All gifts will be matched.
Sponsorship and journal opportunities are available. For more information, contact Heather Shank at 914-606-6558 or email@example.com