By Sophie Deiters
Faculty gathered on Jan. 4. at the Ford Field House to welcome the new Grand Rapids Community College president, Charles Lepper. Lepper will be replacing interim president, Juan Oliverez, who stepped into the role after the departure of former president, Bill Pink.
Before Lepper took the stage, Oliverez gave a “state of the college” speech where he went over the declining rate of student enrollment. He said GRCC’s winter enrollment is at about 10,500 as of this week.
“These numbers, I want to say, are not where we would like them to be,” Olivarez said. “They are down. Both fall and winter semesters are down from last year.”
He also made reference to a high number of personnel changes that have occurred
recently. He noted that there have been 45 new hires since August.
Mursalata Muhammad, an English Professor at GRCC said after Wednesday’s event that the abundance of staff changes have made the college feel like a new institution. “That’s a lot of people,” she said. “Even people who have been here are figuring out what GRCC is now.”
Despite these obstacles, Charles Lepper’s speech was hopeful.
Lepper celebrated the legacy of the college and expressed his goals of creating a stronger community.
“One of the things that I strongly believe is that we need to reestablish community,” Lepper said. “Community within this room, community across our campuses, and community within our community.”
The speech was as much about Lepper as it was about the college. He went into detail about his background and family, sharing photos of his cooking, his husband and their family pets, who he lovingly refers to as his kids. After the speech he told the Collegiate that he had just flown in the day before from Salt Lake City, however he lived in Grand Rapids 25 years ago. He said, “I’m just so incredibly excited to be back here. Grand Rapids has changed so much.”
When asked about his plans for the upcoming semester he said, “One of the things I believe is that when you come into a community, you have to get to know the community before you can say, ‘I’m going to do this,’ cause otherwise, you’re not valuing what’s already there.”
Lepper said he’s eager to get to know the student body and that he will base his goals off of their needs. “I want to be visible. I want to (talk) with (the) community, which includes students, faculty, staff, employees.”
Philosophy Professor Jianchu Chen called the event inspiring, saying, “I’m excited for the (changes) this year.”