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Looking back on ‘transformational work’

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Dr. Kate Hetherington announced her retirement after leading HCC for 14 years. Photo courtesy HCC.

After serving as president of Howard Community College (HCC) for 14 years, Dr. Kate Hetherington announced that she will retire Oct. 1.

Leaving will not be easy for the well-respected college president from what she described as “one of the best jobs in the world.”

Though there’s no “typical day” in the life of a college president, Hetherington said, she tried to make a positive impact on people’s lives every day.

“It’s transformational, the work that I do,” she said. “Some people don’t have the opportunity to work and transform the lives of somebody.”

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Whether she spent her time establishing policies, handling resources from the state or county government or fundraising for facilities and buildings, she never felt like she was at the helm alone.

“I do this with a team of really talented people,” she said. “When they come here, they understand the mission of the college.”

The past year has been especially challenging for decision-makers everywhere, including Hetherington, who had to answer an ever-changing and difficult question that used to be simple: Would HCC be able to open for classes?

“The amount of decision making this past year has been incredible,” she acknowledged. “A decision you made in the morning, by noon, you revised it.”

These days, it’s not as intense as it was when the COVID-19 pandemic first started but being agile is still really important, Hetherington said.

“You have to be open to understanding that you don’t always have the answers,” she said. “There’s a level of humbleness you must have when you’re a college president.”

When it came down to making the decisions needed to move HCC forward, Hetherington’s consistent approach involved listening to other people – and those are the very people she’ll miss the most.

“I was fortunate to come to Howard County – the best county in the United States,” she said, arriving 22 years ago and starting out as HCC’s vice president of student services, then taking on roles as capital campaign manager and executive vice president.

As the student body diversified and grew, Hetherington sees HCC’s relationship with the Howard County Public School System as instrumental.

Hetherington implemented and increased the college’s dual enrollment initiative with the Howard County Public School System.

“We’ve been able to bring hundreds of students through,” said Hetherington. “Some are happy just taking one course. Some completed most of their degree requirements. That’s pretty remarkable. We’ve put a lot of effort into ensuring that underserved students are served, too.”

Workforce development training has also changed substantially, Hetherington said, from expanding apprenticeships, to strengthening partnerships with companies such as AT&T, to growing new programs related to fields such as bio-medical technology.

“The list just goes on and on,” said Hetherington. “We’ve been fortunate to have that area grow under the leadership of the staff.”

HCC also provides training for businesses and the federal government.

“We customize training – and we do it at a reasonable price,” said Hetherington. “We have a rich pool of faculty that we can tap into. They have extensive experience in pretty much anything.”

Workforce training and the student body have been able to advance in part because HCC has drawn the loyal support of donors.

“Part of fundraising is being able to tell the story of why it’s important to give – the impact a gift can have on the lives of students,” said Hetherington.

The students continually inspire Hetherington.

“We have students from 106 countries,” she said. “Just hearing the stories what some have gone through and what some have left shows the transformational impact of how we can make a difference.”

Hetherington said she wants to leave on a high note.

“The college is in great shape for the next person who can take it on to even higher heights –  mighty heights,” she said. “I know that we’re going to have a really solid pool of candidates who will be applying for this job.”

Hetherington believes people should leave the world better with the impact they’ve made. “That’s what I feel about this job,” she said.

What’s next?

She currently serves as co-chair of the Maryland Citizen Redistricting Commission.

And, she said, “I’ve already been asked to be a consultant for some companies in which I know the principals. But it won’t be 24/7, I’m hoping – at least not right away.”

By Susan Kim | Staff Writer | The Business Monthly | May 2021 Issue

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