Wisconsin native Dr. Lori Berquam was named the interim president of Mesa Community College in late January.
Berquam, who came to MCC originally as the school’s executive vice president in July of 2019, assumed succeeds Dr. Richard Haney, who resigned in January.
Prior to arriving in the East Valley, Berquam served as the dean of students and vice provost for student life at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for more than two decades.
Berquam also spent the 2018-19 academic year in Tucson, taking part in the American Council on Education Fellowship at the University of Arizona.
The Mesa Tribune sat down with Berquam, who started her new role on Feb. 1, to go over her first few weeks as the campus’ interim president.
The Q&A below, edited for brevity and clarity, covered a host of topics meant to introduce Berquam to the community.
Q: How did you find your way to Mesa Community College?
A: I had a fellowship down at the University of Arizona and working with the provost in the Provost’s office from the University of Wisconsin. And when I was in Arizona, I fell in love with the two-plus-twos, working with Cochise and Pima.
And really, I think, not expectedly happened upon my love for the community college and how it really can change the course of a person’s life and give them an opportunity they never thought possible.
I’m a first generational college graduate. What drew me to the community college and then what drew me to Mesa was actually the innovative, executive vice president position, which combined academic and student affairs.
Q: How do you create a culture of compassion with academic rigor?
A: Many of our students have one, two and sometimes three different jobs. I met with a student yesterday who was telling me about wanting to stop one of their three jobs so they could spend more time studying. And it’s pretty amazing. So, it’s my journey.
I really always thought I’d be in Wisconsin. I thought I would finish my career in Wisconsin. Had the fellowship nomination, went down to the University of Arizona, experienced some great opportunities at Cochise and Pima, was recruited for this position as an [Executive Vice President].
I was offered the position and accepted it; and before I knew it, my president, who I love, said he wanted to spend more time with his family and would I be interested in being the interim president and here I am.
Q: How has your time in the role has gone so far?
A: So, I started Feb. 1, so it gives you some sort of idea. I think I’ve had a very, very warm and supportive reception. I think the college, the faculty, the staff, the students are really welcoming and inviting to me, and I think have supported me in this role.
And we still have work to do and we’re working on it – working on the Shared Governance Bodies, working on the GPS, or Guided Pathways, transitions, transformation happening over the course of this spring and into the coming years.
Working our diversity, equity and inclusion goals, making sure we’re creating an environment welcoming to our students, it’s also welcoming and supportive of our faculty and staff.
I had the opportunity to go to the mayor’s State of the City address and one of the things fascinating to me is just how the demographics of the city are changing and evolving.
The fact we now have an official Asian District, with a whole marketing campaign around it, tells me the city is changing; and how are we as a college changing with it?
Q: What’s your vision is for this campus as president?
A: I want our graduates to be the most sought-after graduates in the county, in the state and possibly even in the nation.
Certainly, because we do great academic work in supporting them to understand the academic fields they want to go into. But more importantly, because we focus on the type of people we want them to become.
Globally-engaged citizens in the community, in their church, in their schools – it’s what we want to create.
We want this to be a place people want to work at, so much so we are turning people away because we have such a wonderful environment for people in which to work and to thrive.
That’s what my vision is. Certainly, it means we have to do some infrastructure support, meaning ‘are we at the highest level of IT?’” Are we at the place where we can be for our students when they need it? Are we available online?
Do we have flexible schedules so our students can take classes when it meets their needs? Are we providing staff the developmental, professional, personal growth support, so they can be at the top of their game when they’re teaching our students?
Those are the things I think I want MCC to stand for and to be about, and it’s our vision. We’re right now working on our strategic priorities and what our strategic plan is for the next four years.
This will be part of it – how do we have a workforce dynamic committed to students and they are also committed to their profession, committed to knowing the most they can know so they can be the best instructors they can be.
Q: How do you see the community college system fitting into the greater education system in the state?
A: It’s the best-kept secret. The community college system is the best-kept secret. And I say that because it’s an economically viable way to attain an education.
It’s an economical way, because it’s $85 a credit to go to school here. This is considerably less than what you’d pay at any of the state institutions. And what’s great about it is we have built-in relationships with the state universities and with GCU to have automatic transfer.
So, the work our students do here can automatically transfer to a four-year degree if it’s what you’re hoping for.
The other thing about what I believe community colleges add is it is the connection to the community.
We have the Mesa Promise, and I think the partnerships with the city help the city in the Achieve60AZ is a part of a national campaign spearheaded by President Obama. But the idea of raising the educational level of a community raises all boats.
It really helps the community in economic development. It helps the community in understanding where we need to go as a city, where families need to go to be economically prosperous. Where the state needs to go to be, obviously, one of the destination states in the country.
I think the community colleges play a huge role in that. We have access to anybody. So, you want to go to school here, we welcome you.
We want to be the place where you can learn to be your best self, where you can dream, where you can find a way in which to achieve your dreams. It’s what we’re about and it’s what I’m proud to say I am the interim president of, a school willing to do that.
Q: What does it mean to you to see the mayor buying into MCC and what you guys are trying to achieve?
A: Isn’t that awesome? I mean, seriously, I put that video on my Facebook and said about how amazing it was.
I love Madison, Wisconsin. And if you know much about Madison, it’s very similar to Boulder, and it’s an amazingly progressive city that’s doing some amazing things.
I went to the State of the City address by Mayor Giles and I was blown away – literally, blown away. I could not be more proud to be a part of a city that considers partnerships with MCC and also ASU and other institutions of higher educations, to be a part of the fabric of the city that helps its citizenship to become better citizens, to be more productive, to be more economically stable.
All of that matters to me, because it should matter to all of us.
I mean, how your neighbor does is actually directly related to how you will do.
And the quicker that we understand that we are far more alike than we are different, we are far better together than we are apart, then the more goals we can attain together, the more in which we will be stronger, the greater ways in which we can find success with each other.
And so, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Giles and I appreciate his passion. I appreciate his care. I appreciate the way in which he actually loves this city and the people in it.
Q: What do you think they should know about you and how you approach your role here at MCC?
A: Well there’s a saying that’s in my family, which is, “everybody save your fork.”
And I would say to the community of Mesa, “save your fork, the best is yet to come.”
And what we are creating here, people will want to be a part of. So, be prepared to be amazed. It is a great place and we’re going to make it even better. We’re going to make sure that we’re a viable part of this community. We want to partner with the community. We want to be a resource for the community in which they can achieve their dreams.
Q: Would you be interested in becoming the full-time president?
A: I’ve always had the dream of someday becoming a college president. That said, I’m honored to be here now, and I’m being fully immersed in the present, and what will reveal itself down the road.
I don’t know. I’m honored to be in the role right now and I’m going to take advantage of it. And again, be prepared to be amazed.