Chris Gray, Ph.D. l Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania
If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that I’m fond of commemorating all of the EC3PA firsts that we experience as they happen. Today marks an important anniversary for me as it was one year ago today that I reported to work here at EC3PA for the first time. I’ve chronicled my decision to apply for this position and my feelings when EC3PA asked me to become its founding president previously, so I won’t reiterate those stories here. In many ways, this is the last of my personal firsts in this role.
It’s difficult even now to explain what I felt as I walked through the doors at our shared office inside of the Chamber on that hot July morning. To be sure, I was excited at all the possibilities that lay before me. I was more than a bit apprehensive at the same time because so much was at stake. I’m guessing this is as close as I’ve ever been to Victor Shklovsky’s concept of defamiliarization, often analogized to Jacques Derrida’s idea of différance; everything felt new and a bit strange — almost uncanny — and at the same time, familiar. It was like coming home but coming home to a place where I had never been. Maybe déjà vu is an apt analogy?
And of course, I was brand new to the role of college president, so there was a steep learning curve there. I was a newcomer to Erie — learning about Erie County and its people, collaborating with a Board of Trustees absolutely committed to student access and success, and finding just the right team to embody our College mission. The EC3PA family, of course, embraced me as its leader and has worked tirelessly to bring my vision for our students to fruition every day since.
And what a year it’s been! We’ve added campuses; we’ve added programs, degrees, and certificates; we’ve added faculty, staff, and administrators. And most importantly, we’ve added students. We’ve brought the opportunity to pursue a higher education to students who have henceforth been restricted in access. We’ve pledged to be the community’s college, and we are working diligently to continue to be so. And we’ve only just begun (if you’re around my age, you just hummed a few bars of the famous Carpenters song of the same name). It has truly been an amazing year for us here at EC3PA! Yes, I’m taking a victory lap!
Starting today, I’m personally entering a year of seconds. This will be my second fall semester, my second spring semester, etc. I’ve traveled around the sun and gone through four seasons at EC3PA. I’ve established a new home for myself here, made new friends, and fallen in love with this community. I’ve put down roots and figured out most of the quirks with my new house. I’m a Pennsylvanian now, and I’ve found my calling. For me, there’s a peace that comes with knowing a place and its people, and I’ve found that.
As ever, I’m mindful of the fact that what has come to feel like a familiar place full of comfortable experiences for me is something that is still brand new to many of our students. For many of them, this is a terrifying leap of faith, and they are relying upon us to be there to help them take that big step. As we gear up for Fall and start to turn our focus to enrollment, I’m keeping at the forefront of my mind the idea that many of our students feel as excited and apprehensive as I did when I first walked into EC3PA’s doors as its president one year ago. My challenge in this next year is to continue to see EC3PA through the eyes of those we serve and to continue to help it to adapt and change accordingly. Today especially, I feel so honored to have spent this last year at OUR community’s college. Bring on Year # 2!