Home Featured News GRCC Presidential Search: Meet the Candidates

GRCC Presidential Search: Meet the Candidates

The finalist list for GRCC's next president is down to three men: (from left) Stuart Blacklaw, provost and executive vice president at the Community College of Allegany County in Pittsburgh; Tim Casper, vice president for student affairs and institutional effectiveness at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin; and Charles Lepper, vice president for student affairs and Enrollment Management at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Grand Rapids Community College community anxiously awaits the announcement of its next president following an extensive search and interview process. The GRCC Board of Trustees plans to choose a president from the finalist pool of three candidates by the Nov. 21 board meeting. 

The finalists are: Charles Lepper, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Salt Lake Community College, Timothy Casper, executive vice president of Student Affairs at the Madison Area Technical College of Wisconsin, and Stuart Blacklaw who is currently serving out the semester as provost and executive vice president at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh before accepting a “early retirement option.” All three men sat through four separate public forums, gave presentations on their visions for GRCC and answered questions from members of the Board of Trustees.

The Collegiate asked students on campus what they wanted to know about the presidential finalists, and each candidate gave thoughtful responses below. 

Charles Lepper 

GRCC presidential candidate Charles Lepper speaking while being interviewed by the GRCC board of trustees on Oct. 19. Lepper is the vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Alena Visnovsky/The Collegiate) Alena Visnovsky | The Collegiate Live


What is your educational background and have you ever attended community college?

I am a proud first-generation college graduate. I first attended Ball State University earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Human Resources and Personnel Management.  After completing my undergraduate degree, I attended Grand Valley State University, earning a Master of Education in College Student Affairs Leadership.

After working as a college administrator for several years, I got up the courage to enroll in a doctoral program and earned my Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership, Administration, and Foundations at Indiana State University. 

I believe in being a life-long learner and I am always looking for ways to improve myself.  In 2017, I was selected to participate and complete the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University and just recently completed an on-line Professional Development Certificate in Trauma and Resilience from Florida State University.

Unfortunately, the state where I grew up (Indiana) did not have a community college at the time I attended college. But I believe I would have benefited tremendously from attending a community college because of the smaller class sizes, the opportunity to connect directly with faculty, and extensive support services.  

What would you bring to the table if you are hired as president of GRCC?

Part of my own story is that during high school, my assistant principal discouraged me from taking college prep courses. He would tell me that I would never go to college and that I did not need them. Because of this experience, I developed a passion for learning and supporting others as they learn. I went to college thinking I would fail, that I didn’t have what it took to graduate. Fortunately, I found the support systems that I needed to be successful. Today, I feel lucky to get to do the work I do on behalf of students. The passion to help others succeed is what drives my passion. Passion aside, I naturally have a lot of energy and I enjoy connecting with students hearing about their successes. 

For the past several years it has been my goal to be a college president. I have done a lot to prepare myself by seeking out opportunities to learn from others. I started my career as a residence hall director at Western Michigan University and worked at four-year institutions before being hired as an Associate Dean of Student at Ivy Tech Community College over 20 years ago. While at Ivy Tech I held a variety of roles including state-wide responsibilities in both academic affairs and student affairs and played a large role in their accreditation affirmation with the Higher Learning Commission. In my last position at Ivy Tech, I was the state-wide Assistant Vice President for Student Development Services. In that role, I was responsible for ensuring high quality services for nearly 200,000 students on 30 different campuses. I have also served as a vice president at two large, multi-campus community colleges in Virginia and Utah. I believe the diversity of my experiences is a strength and something that I could bring to the position.   

What would you do, or what ideas do you have, to help keep college affordable?

College affordability is something that is always on my mind. I believe that we must be mindful that college affordability is not limited to tuition and fees. College affordability should also factor in things like rent, food, childcare, gas, and other living expenses. With current inflation rates, more and more students are struggling to find ways to pay their bills and find enough money to earn a degree. Some of the things that I have done and would do as president of GRCC is to continually focus on how to keep tuition and fees as low as possible and explore increasing the number of courses that utilize free Open Educational Resources instead of high cost printed textbooks. I also would look for opportunities to increase the number of scholarships that could be awarded to students. I have been successful doing this at my current institution and have also been able to establish a student in crisis fund. So far, we have been able to award over $500,000 to students who have need. Finally, I would want to focus on how GRCC could help students meet their basic needs. I have been successful in establishing four food pantries on our campuses, implementing a free bus pass program, and significantly expanding affordable on-campus childcare.

Most importantly, why do you want to be the President at GRCC? 

There are so many reasons I want to the President of Grand Rapids Community College. Many years ago, I lived in the community and knew of the college’s excellent reputation. As I did my research, I was impressed with what I saw and with what was taking place. As I looked at the college’s mission, vision, values, and strategic plan, they aligned with my own beliefs and vision for the future. I believe there are exciting and innovative things going on at GRCC and I want to be part of it. I also appreciate the attention being given to equity and inclusion. This work is so vital in today’s world and having it front-and-center is needed. It is clear to me that there is a lot of passion at the college from students, faculty, and staff and GRCC seems like an exciting place. I truly hope that I get to serve as the President of the college and to give back to a community that I benefited from being part of all those years ago.

Stuart Blacklaw

GRCC Presidential Candidate Stuart Blacklaw speaks at ATC Auditorium (Alena Visnovsky/The Collegiate Photo Courtesy of Alena Visnovsky

What is your educational background and have you ever attended community college?

I graduated from Chelsea High School in Chelsea, Michigan and then attended Olivet College in Olivet.. I loved college and even after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I took a class at Jackson Community College while working in the media in Jackson. I soon decided that I wanted to go back for another degree and enrolled in my master’s program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I took some additional coursework at Michigan after earning my masters and then later enrolled at Capella University, where I earned my PhD.

What would you bring to the table if you are hired as president of GRCC?

I started my academic career as a full-time faculty member and I have always found that my firsthand understanding of and appreciation for the work of the faculty has been crucial to making good decisions as an administrator. I also believe that having worked as an academic and student services administrator in multiple community colleges in different states has given me a variety of models and approaches to consider when working through an initiative or issue. Finally, having been a part of this community before and having close family in the area makes the success of this college a personal thing to me. The well-being of this college, of this community, this region and this state is something in which I have a personal investment.

What would you do, or what ideas do you have, to help keep college affordable?

Community colleges in general and GRCC in particular cuts tens of thousands of dollars off the price of the bachelor’s degree for thousands of students every year. That is because community colleges have affordability — and the access that it provides — as a key component of our mission. Keeping tuition and fees affordable, however, is only the starting point. 

Highly respected colleges like GRCC work tirelessly on keeping the affordability mission in front of state and federal leaders so that their assistance continues uncut or is hopefully increased. Beyond that, we rely on an amazing array of donors to sponsor scholarships that collectively save our students a tremendous amount each year. In addition, we seek partnerships to bring to our students instructional, co-curricular, and extracurricular opportunities that the college would not be able to afford alone. 

We also work diligently with those industries to whom we provide the next generation of highly skilled professionals and request their assistance in keeping our labs exceptionally well equipped and our curriculum precise so that students don’t take extraneous courses. In addition, we are thoughtful about our course schedules and modalities, which allow students to assemble an academic schedule that saves transportation, childcare and other costs – or allows them to keep moving toward their degrees without giving up their jobs. These and a dozen other strategies are on our minds every day as we fight to ensure that money is not an insurmountable barrier to our students’ ability to realize their dreams. 

Most importantly, why do you want to be the President at GRCC?

I was born and raised in Michigan and while I have lived in other places, when I return to Michigan, I am home. Something as simple as seeing a Meijer store brings a smile to my face. Even strangers are familiar, as we share so much in common from having grown up here. Grand Rapids itself is a beautiful city in one of the most beautiful areas of the state — and (that’s) saying something in this state that has so many amazingly gorgeous regions. But GRCC in particular is of interest because it is an institution known for its excellence, filled with some of the finest people I’ve ever known. It is an institution that has been well cared for through the years. It would be my great privilege to renew my affiliation with GRCC, to serve this community exceptionally well and be an example of excellence around the state and across the nation. It would be so good to be home. 

Timothy Casper 

GRCC presidential candidate Tim Casper speaking at a community forum held in the Applied Technology Center on Oct. 24. Casper is the vice president for Student Affairs and Institutional Effectiveness at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, WI. (Alena Visnovsky/The Collegiate) Alena Visnovsky | The Collegiate Live

What is your educational background and have you ever attended community college?

I earned my B.A. in Urban Studies at the University of WI-Green Bay. UWGB is a regional, public university that had a mix of young and older adults. Many of my classmates were commuters and lived in Green Bay and the surrounding communities.

After graduating, I worked for two-years for the United Council of UW Students. The organization advocated for students of the University of WI System’s campuses – both two-year and four-year. We engaged with the UW System Administration, UW Board of Regents, and legislators on behalf of students’ interests.

After working there, I completed the M.A. in Public Affairs and Administration program at the University of WI-Madison. I had strong interest in understanding how the needs of individuals and communities were met through public policy, particularly related to education and housing. 

I started working at Madison Area Technical College in 2011. With the support of Dr. Bettsey Barhorst, president at that time, I began my doctoral studies in education leadership at Edgewood College in Madison, WI. My dissertation focused on the impact that grant aid from college foundations had on student completion in technical and occupational programs like nursing and HVAC maintenance and repair.

What would you bring to the table if you are hired as president of GRCC?

I have a broad background in community college leadership. I work with faculty, staff, and students in our shared governance system to improve the student experience and support student success. I had a leadership role with advancing efforts to develop a more collaborative culture and set of associated practices at my present college.

I’ve developed an understanding of college finances, grants, technology, facilities, and equity and their relation to teaching, student services, and the advancement of efforts to improve the college based on students’ experiences.

I’ve engaged with our communities to better understand how the college may be more responsive to community priorities. This has been done with strategic planning and the development of new facilities in our college district. I view the community college as a major partner in the development of strong communities. 

My background in public policy development and advocacy will support GRCC with advancing its agenda with policy makers.

What would you do, or what ideas do you have, to help keep college affordable?

Accessing college – Strengthen dual enrollment opportunities for high school students. If more young people can earn credits in high school, those are tuition costs they do not have to pay as young adults. Completing an associate degree while in high school allows those individuals to enroll in a university to complete a bachelor’s degree or enter the workforce after HS graduation.

Working adults may have experience and credentials from industry that could satisfy college course requirements. There is interest in Michigan to have colleges find effective ways to grant credit in this manner – competency based education. With the new MI Reconnect program, I’d seek to connect working adults to the college, have them use the Reconnect funds to cover college costs, and find new ways to grant eligible students credit for knowledge and skills they’ve learned as workers so they can complete an associate degree in less time and at a lower cost.

Connecting to grant aid – Completing the FAFSA (financial aid application) is critical to accessing existing federal and state aid programs. Reviewing aid packages to determine what to accept (grants vs. loans) is also important. There are private grants available to students, including students not eligible for public grants. I would want to understand if there are ways to increase student awareness of these resources and support students with completing processes to access these funds. Private grants may have less paperwork associated with applying, but students may need assistance with understanding those processes. I’d want to continue to work with the GRCC foundation to solicit financial support for grants.

Educational materials – I understand GRCC faculty use Open Educational Resources (OER) to reduce costs and provide students access to quality learning materials. I would be interested in identifying ways to support the expanded use of such materials. 

Connection to community services – I saw that through grcc.edu students may link to community organizations to access services for food, housing services, legal services and others. I’d explore the interest for other additional intentional efforts to connect students to these resources. Are there spaces on campuses for these organizations to meet and serve students? Do college community members have general awareness of these services to support students? Can college staff members actively help students with accessing these services?

The issue of college affordability is multi-faceted, but there are some ways to address the issue of affordability, while also maintaining the quality of the educational experience.

GRCC is located in a strong, vibrant, growing community. It is a college that is recognized nationally by its peers. It has outstanding faculty supporting the advancement of training and knowledge in more than 140 programs. GRCC has a strong commitment to transfer programs, job training, and equity. GRCC is grounded in its communities, supporting area residents with their growth and receiving financial support from the community. It would be an honor to guide this college with its efforts to continue to respond to the changing needs of students and area residents, businesses, and partner organizations.



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