Dr. Toni Hopper Pendergrass started her tenure July 2. Her priorities have been to develop the college's programs, increase graduation rates and engage the community.
However, Pendergrass most looks forward to reconnecting with the community she called home in her youth. She was born in Albuquerque in 1971 and grew up in Aztec. She attended McCoy Elementary School and graduated from Aztec High School.
"I have a lot of great memories of this area," she said. "I love the cultural diversity."
Her favorite pastimes growing up were water skiing, fishing and camping at Navajo Lake.
"San Juan College has such a wonderful reputation at the local, state and national levels," she said. "The first president was here for 27 years, I didn't want to miss the opportunity."
The public is invited to the inauguration at 3 p.m. Wednesday, where community members will have the opportunity to meet the new president personally, said Rhonda Schaefer, San Juan College's marketing and public relations director.
Pendergrass and college administrators are working to finalize a five-year strategic plan. Dr. Nancy Shepherd, presidential adviser of Community Relations and chairwoman of the Strategic Service Committee, held 13 coffee talks with 156 people in 2012 to assess community needs. An additional 32 interviews were conducted with 61 community leaders.
The plan's emphasis, Pendergrass said, will be on improving student success.
"We've been challenged to double graduation rates by 2020," she said.
Some challenges are ahead. Pending state legislation could have an effect on funding. Traditionally, the college receives funding mainly based on enrollment, Pendergrass said. If the legislation is passed, about five percent of the school's funding will be based on student performance. The proposed measure will track students' academic progress throughout their studies at San Juan College.
Economic development will be another focus.
"We need to make sure that individuals are getting employed in the area," she said.
Pendergrass took over from Mike Tacha, who served as interim president from February 2011 through out June 2012.
Before coming to San Juan College, she was vice president of learning at San Jacinto College's South Campus in Houston. She also served as interim vice president of academic affairs and student success, executive dean and assistant to the president at El Centro College in Dallas, and held positions at Wayne County Community College in Detroit and Clovis Community College.
She earned her doctorate in educational administration, specializing in community college leadership, from the University of Texas at Austin, and her master's and bachelor's degrees in agricultural economics and economics from New Mexico State University.
"She's an extraordinarily genuine person," Shepherd said. "She really cares. She understands life in San Juan County."