Q & A: New Sierra College leader wants to reach out to business

Duncan said state needs to loosen up regulations
By: Interview by Jenifer Gee Journal editor
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The Journal recently sat down with William Duncan, the new president of Sierra College, who prefers if you call him Willy. Duncan was appointed to the post in May and took office in July. He comes from Taft College in Kern County, where he worked for 14 years, the last four as president of a campus located about 35 miles west of Bakersfield and in “the heart of oil country,” Duncan said. He took the time to answer some questions about himself and his goals for the local community college, where about 40 percent of area high school students take classes post-high school graduation. 1. Why did you want to work at Sierra College? What’s not to love? This is a great area. I loved it (at Taft) but it’s a small school and I was ready for a bigger challenge. I looked at opportunities for a year. When I looked at Sierra College, I liked that it has a real collaborative spirit and the community loves Sierra. 2. What are the biggest challenges you face? Budget. There’s also a challenge of facilities. We do have an aging campus and there is some modernization needed. I also want to figure out how to meet the growing need in the area for training to develop a workforce. We have to look at what’s our role as a college to help spur growth in the economy. I want to engage businesses in the area and leaders in the area and find out what we need to do to try and turn things around. 3. What do you think of the recent student and Occupy protests on college campuses? I understand the frustration people are feeling, especially in education and especially in the reduction in access. I definitely understand the sentiment exists and how students feel. We try to get to as many students as we can. I’d say the system is stressed right now. There’s no easy answer. 4. If there’s one thing you’d want the legislature to do to help schools, what would it be? Free up some of the regulations and restrictions on the money we receive. Allow us to use the money where we need it. 5. What do you do for fun? I have a family. It includes my wife, Melody, two sons, Joe, 22, Nick, 19, and a daughter, Natalie, 14. We do family activities. Recently we took a big long hike above Auburn. I also play golf. I’m a sports fan. I want to go catch a Giants game. Reach Jenifer Gee at ------------------------------ Did you know? William Duncan, the new president of Sierra College, successfully lead a 2½ to 3-year effort to secure legislation and funding for programs that help individuals with intellectual disabilities and those with autism live and work independently. Duncan said he developed a vocational type program at Taft College in Kern County that was designed for those with disabilities. Students who completed the two-year course received a certificate and were placed in a job. He said 94 percent of students lived independently after completing the course and 90 percent held their jobs after they were out of the program. The program eventually received federal backing and $55 million was distributed in the form of 29 grants to community colleges across the country to create similar programs. ------------------------------ Fast facts 60 percent of Sierra College students transfer to a four-year college. It’s one of the highest transfer rates in the state. 40 percent of all high school students in the Placer County area attend Sierra College 26 is the number of career and technical education programs offered at the community college