Betting on Lifelong Education
Anne Arundel Community College president Dawn Lindsay puts her money on empowering people
At Anne Arundel Community College, where two out of three students are women, women’s history is a forward-heading story. Dawn Lindsay continues a two-decade tradition of female leadership, following Martha Smith, who served 18 years as college president.
Lindsay took over in August, 2012, leaving Glendale Community College in California, where she was also president, for “the place I’d had my eye on for some time, an amazing college with a great national reputation.”
Back then, with the economy going nowhere fast, Anne Arundel Community College was near an all-time high, with 17,649 students, measured in full-time equivalent terms.
Colleges roll with the economy’s punches. The better the economy, the lower enrollment. By last fall, Anne Arundel’s enrollment was down seven percent to 16,463.
What’s a president to do? Look to where jobs are needed.
One of Anne Arundel Community College’s growth engines is Maryland Live! The new dealer school has trained, graduated and placed more than 600 dealers since table gaming began last April. Salaries there, Lindsay told me, can reach $50,000 to $60,000.
Community colleges make education open, accessible, affordable and, often, exciting. They’re also a path to a livable income. The average Anne Arundel occupational program graduate was earning $40,574 in three years, according to a 2011 report. That was up from $19,479 a year before graduation.
For Women’s History Month, I chatted with President Lindsay about success, her college and its role in the community.
Bay Weekly As a college president, what do you do?
Dawn Lindsay I protect the external boundaries of the college. My job is to make sure the experts inside have the resources and the connections they need to do a better job. They tell me what they need. I don’t tell them what to do.
Bay Weekly While you’re protecting the boundaries, what’s going on inside?
Dawn Lindsay We empower people. We empower people to be successful, independent, to have options and opportunities. We empower lifelong learning. We empower people to get degrees. We empower personal development.
One of the reasons for my passion for community college is that our mission is so broad. My 25-year-old son, James, graduated from community college, and my 90-year-old father takes classes at Anne Arundel.
With kids’ camp, dual enrollment programs with high schools, partnerships with business, articulation agreements with four-year colleges, lifelong learning and much more, we educate people from the time they’re little to their senior years.
Bay Weekly One of your odder study programs is casino training …
Dawn Lindsay Most people would never assume a community college and a casino would be related. But there was a need. Rob Norton, general manager of Maryland Live!, needed to get people trained. For us, that was a workforce opportunity. It took us going into the casino to find out what their training needs were. We took our training to Arundel Mills where the casino is located. We have four dedicated labs for dealer training, including one for blackjack and another for poker.
Matching our hospitality program with gaming has been an incredibly winning partnership. Maryland Live! won an award as Business Partner of the Year through the Maryland Higher Education program.
Now we’re expanding to the old Marley Station Mall to meet the demand for training. We’re going to be the new tenant, so we’re a force in community redevelopment, too.
Bay Weekly How has that deal worked out for your students?
Dawn Lindsay We had 625 students begin in contract training to open the table games at Maryland Live! We’ve added 100 since and many more to come.
In about 600 hours, in a semester, people could go from being unhappy or unemployed or under-employed to a position of about $50,000 or $60,000 a year.
Bay Weekly Still, you probably don’t want us to think of Anne Arundel Community College as Maryland’s college for card dealers …
Dawn Lindsay We go from casino training, to cybersecurity partnerships with the military and defense contractors, to hospitality, to business, to paralegal, to dental, to nursing, to transfer, to continuing education. It’s huge what we do.
A lot of what I do is going out in the community to find out what’s needed, then going back to campus to find what resources we have that can be the answer — or if we need to go to the local experts — to make it happen. We pride ourselves on being incredibly responsive to the business community. If we don’t do it and somebody needs it, we’ll make it happen.
Bay Weekly How much of your training leads to jobs?
Dawn Lindsay Greater than 50 percent, because we help people attain jobs not only through our credit program. Noncredit, where people are learning specific skill sets, is half if not more of our enrollment. Slightly more than 20 percent of our students are 18- to 21-year-olds coming in to transfer. Our average student age is 28.
Bay Weekly As college president, you’ve got a job with relatively few peers. You’re one of 55 presidents of Maryland colleges and universities, 16 if we narrow the field to community colleges. How did you go about getting a job so rare — and presumably hard to get?
Dawn Lindsay Community colleges hire discipline experts. As an experienced therapist in a Howard County police program that had a lot of success with young first offenders, I was courted to work with the community and teach counseling skills at Dundalk Community College.
Bay Weekly Sounds like your path wound upward, propelled by education, experience, hard work, multiplying opportunities and good contacts. How do you translate your experience for other job seekers?
Dawn Lindsay Take jobs nobody else wants and be successful at them. I took the jobs I knew were important to the institution. I believe we have personal responsibility to make ourselves valuable to the institution we’re working for.
Be humble enough to realize that if you want to move ahead in life, it requires listening, being respectful, understanding what other people do, building consensus, collaborating in teams.
You’re only as good as the people you’re working with. So if you’re part of a winning team, you’ve got a great opportunity to be successful.
Bay Weekly How do you avoid dead-ending in a job nobody else wants?
Dawn Lindsay Sometimes people don’t know their options; they don’t know what’s available. I think this is where mentoring and networking come in.
I believe there’s always a way to get where you want to be — depending on what you’re willing to sacrifice and what you’re willing to do to make it happen. Believe in yourself, and if you know where you want to go, find someone doing it and ask how they got there.
Bay Weekly Tell us about a time that approach worked for you.
Dawn Lindsay I fell in love and moved to California, where nobody knew me. It was a huge state. Not sure where to take my career — law school, nursing? — I zoomed in on wanting to be in education and at a community college. I applied for a staff position in a community college’s reentry center for women who were re-careering, as I had just done. From there, I was invited to apply for a tenure-track faculty position.
Bay Weekly And from there?
Dawn Lindsay I decided I wanted to be a college president, and I knew that would take getting a doctorate. I earned mine at Pepperdine University in organizational leadership. I learned a servitude style of leadership, where basically the higher you go in an institution, the lower you go because the more people you serve.
I was hired to be a dean; then my career just kind of took off, from vice president to executive vice president to interim president to president. Anne Arundel Community College was the next step. It’s the college I wanted to come to, and it was the only position I applied for.
Bay Weekly You’ve made your way very successfully. What’s your advice to people seeking their own way?
Dawn Lindsay Come to Anne Arundel Community College. We’ve got a variety of programs that can help you reach your educational and workforce goals. We’re here to help you succeed and empower you to move forward.