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Q&A: Sierra College President Willy Duncan talks about his first year in charge and his hopes for the upcoming year

Community involvement and alternative funding resources key to next year
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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After his first year as president of Sierra College, Willy Duncan is feeling good.

Duncan succeeded Dr. Leo Chavez, who retired last year. He is the sixth president of Sierra College and indicated in a recent interview with the Journal that he is ready for his second year in charge.

How did your first year treat you?

You know, it's been good. It's been enjoyable to come to Sierra. The community and campus have been very warm and welcoming. Sierra is a great campus with a lot of positive things happening, like the high student success rate and transfer rate with excellent educational programs and top notch student services, so it's been a pleasure for me to come here to become part of the campus.

What are some things you've accomplished at Sierra so far that you're especially proud of?

I've really been trying to get involved in the community. I serve in quite a few capacities in the community, including the Placer County Economic Development Board and I have spoke at just about even chamber and Rotary club in the area, some women's groups and other community groups and I have joined Valley Vision, which is a regional organization that serves the six-county Sacramento region and works to try to tackle some of the tougher community issues that exist. Their most recent project is the Next Economy project, which is looking at what the next economy will be in the Sacramento region. What will it look like? What type of industry will be here? What type of employees do we need?
I'm also involved with Linking Education to Economic Development, or LEED. That's a group of educators in all facets and levels of education in the area and business leaders. Those two groups come together and talk about how we can further our economy and how we can develop a trained workforce.

Why do you think it's so important to be involved with the community?

I think it's important that the college be linked to the community very, very closely, that way we understand what the community is looking for, we understand what students that are coming in need and what their expectations are when they leave Sierra College. So, I really like that linkage to the community. It's obviously important for me to be there on an internal level, campus workings are very important, but it's also important that we always stay linked to the greater community.

Moving into your second year at Sierra College, what are some things you're looking forward to and some things you would like to accomplish?

We're beginning a process of facilities master planning and there are some infrastructure needs here at Sierra and I'm really hoping to push that process along. I really want to dialogue with the campus community and the community at large and talk about what Sierra College facilities can do for you in the future, what size of campus we need in order to serve Placer County, and if we need more locations.

How do you intend on addressing the issue of class availability to students?

This next year might be spent on doing some resource development work. Obviously, everybody knows that our budgets have been cut; it's one of the most depressing things you face, coming into a new college and having to look at students and say "sorry, we don't have any classes for you." It's been a very, very difficult year in that respect, so one of the efforts I'm really hoping to spend a lot of time on is resource development, looking at alternative sources of funds to bring into the campus to support our educational programs.
I want to look for creative ways to do that because our state funding is limited. We're capped at a certain number of students the state will pay for and so the only way I can see to expand what we can offer students is to go out and find alternative resources.

Other than budgetary issues, what are some of the biggest challenges Sierra College will face this year?

I think the biggest challenge we're facing right now is the number of students we have that need courses and services and our restricted ability to meet that need. We're feeling it all over campus.
While I've said the state is lowering our cap of students they'll pay us for, that doesn't mean there are fewer students trying to get in the door. We have more students trying to get in, so it creates almost a funnel of students struggling trying to apply for the college, get into the college, and get the classes they're having to fight for. Our financial aid demand has also almost tripled in the last few years and part of that is the economy and another part of that is the number of students coming in, so the ability to provide those services for students is a huge issue that we're facing and one I hope we can improve for our students.

In terms of hearing from students how important is that to you and how do you plan on interacting with them in the coming year?

That's why we're here. I always try to keep that in my mind. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of the administrative work we have to do, but it's nice to be reminded of why we're here.
We communicate through our student government, the Associated Students of Sierra College. The president of ASSC is a student trustee who meets regularly with myself and the trustees. One of the groups we've been trying to figure out how to better serve on campus is our veterans.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.