by Michael Grady, Marketing Specialist, Yavapai College
On many campuses, college presidents are seen from a distance: cutting ribbons, speaking from podiums, frowning pensively under their mortar boards until the closing procession begins.
At Yavapai College, the president is the nice lady who just came up to you and asked, “So how are you doing today?”
That’s just one legacy of Dr. Penny Wills, Yavapai College’s ninth president, who will retire this year. While many academics prefer lecture halls and conference rooms, Dr. Wills walks the campuses and visits the cafeteria, asking questions of the students she meets. Her reputation follows, rather than precedes, her. Many a student has finished a conversation with her, only to be told, “You know that was the president, right?”
Most times, they didn’t know. Dr. Wills was always more about listening to students than impressing them. In her seven years of service, Dr. Wills has challenged ivory tower conceptions of academia and built strong ties between Yavapai College and the community it serves.
“We always have to remember, we are here for the students,” she says.
As the driving force behind the Pathways project, Dr. Wills helped the college develop a program that clarifies each student’s course of study.
“Pathways essentially creates a mapping process,” she told The Verde Independent. “Students understand which classes are necessary for program completion, how long it will take and what opportunities they will have at the end.”
Introduced last year, Pathways saves students time and money as they pursue their goals.
On the programming level, Dr. Wills helped re-engineer the College’s Regional Economic Development Center (REDC) into an asset for local businesses. Through job fairs, training programs, research and business advice, the REDC is a vital resource for start-up entrepreneurs, established industries looking to improve and a local workforce seeking jobs.
With initiatives ranging from better relationships with local schools to an on-campus food pantry for students in need, Dr. Wills has demonstrated the many ways education can inform, inspire and support a community.
“I just love education,” she said of her field. “You’re shaping lives. You challenge students and become partners in their learning.”
This fall marks Dr. Wills’ final semester at Yavapai College. She will greet students and faculty − urging them to be curious, creative and learn − as she has since 2011. She will facilitate a smooth transition for her successor. Then she will quietly step away on Dec. 31 for retirement and travel with her husband, Ron.
But part of her will always remain at YC. Like the “Do you know who that is?” whispers that followed her when she greeted new students on campus, Dr. Wills will leave an impressive legacy behind her: a thriving educational institution that is in sync with its community and a service-first approach that begins one student at a time.
The students, staff and faculty of Yavapai College thank Dr. Wills for her service and wish her the best on her next adventure.