Notes from the President

Chris Gray, Ph.D. | Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

I’ve spoken before about the awesome opportunity and responsibility that come with being entrusted to build something new from the ground up. EC3PA as an institution is one that is being constructed with student needs at the forefront of all considerations, and I’ve made clear that this will be my singular focus since applying to become its president a year ago. Changing settled institutional cultures is hard, and inertia is a powerful force to overcome once it takes hold. For this reason, I’ve committed time and time again to building a bedrock cultural foundation now that won’t need to be corrected later; instead, we address issues and problems as we go, and we are building EC3PA with a single end in mind. Our students are always our focus.

This philosophy is made manifest in the hiring decisions that we make at EC3PA — not just in the people that we invite to join us, but also in the positions that we choose to create in the first place. We hire with intentionality, in other words. We choose positions that are instrumental in helping to bolster our mission. We are careful, and we are deliberate. I’ve chosen my administrative team using these same principles.
My management philosophy has evolved over the years, obviously, but one thing that I’ve never wished to do is to micromanage my team. That’s just not how I operate; instead, I stay out of the weeds and trust my people to do their work. I’ve long embraced the approach attributed to Lee Iacocca, the Pennsylvania-born visionary who was an instrumental leader in Detroit’s auto industry, first at Ford Motor Company and later at Chrysler Corporation. His approach was simple: “I hire people brighter than me, and then I get out of their way.” This simple yet revolutionary idea was picked up by leaders such as the late Steve Jobs from Apple as well as others who have realized that the best way to build a great team is to choose individuals whose different strengths complement each other and to let them work their magic. I first heard that advice as a young dean many years ago, and it still informs all of my decision making.

I’ve never been interested in working with a team that was afraid to challenge me. The era of “yes men” and “yes women” is beyond passé in a world like ours, particularly in the last couple of years with all the changes wrought during the COVID-19 pandemic. Different voices are essential. I need a team that will cleave to our mission while still unapologetically exercising their individual strengths. I need a team that will challenge me to be the best founding president that I can be. I need a team that not only thinks outside the box but wonders why we even have to have a box in the first place. And at the same time, I need a team that will band together to support and uplift each other in times of trial, which are inevitable in a world that is constantly changing.

Right now, EC3PA is seeking out another leader to add to our fold: a Dean of Academics. This position is literally going to become a champion for EC3PA students, helping to design and deploy courses and programs of study. This position will likewise serve as a support for faculty while guiding curriculum-related initiatives. This person will build and lead a team of his/her own as well as collaborating with fellow deans and upper-level administration. I’m committed to finding someone who is eager to embrace these challenges and then getting out of the way. I need another fantastic member to join this team, and I’m excited to see who we find.

One of my greatest joys during the last nine months of my time here at EC3PA has been watching our institution develop and change. With every new addition to our staff, we find new ways to serve the Erie County community. With every new course that we create, we offer new potential EC3PA students the chance to join our ranks. And with each institutional change, we find yet more unexplored ideas out there waiting for us. I simply never get tired of finding new and better ways to do things, and I’m excited that we are continuing to bring new, bright people into the fold. We only get better as we grow and change together.