WATERLOO – Hawkeye Community College’s presidency is a job Kristie Fisher said she has been preparing for a long time.
The senior director of national associations and market engagement for ACT Inc. said she almost passed up the opportunity with the Iowa City company five years ago as she sought to find a position leading a community college. But an ACT executive convinced Fisher the job would strengthen her credentials for that ultimate goal, which she now acknowledges is true.
“I’ve learned a tremendous amount,” she told Hawkeye’s board of trustees during a Wednesday evening interview.
Fisher is the first of four finalists for the president’s position to visit Hawkeye. She spent a full day in meetings, open forums and the 1½-hour board interview accompanied by her husband, Drew.
Other finalists will be on campus Monday, Wednesday and next Thursday. Trustees began their search when, after eight years as president, Linda Allen announced in January she plans on retiring by June 30.
Fisher, 48, of Solon, said during one of the forums it was “about seven or eight years ago” while working as vice president of student services at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids that she “decided my long-term goal was to be a community college president.”
The first-generation college student and native of Shueyville earned an associate degree at Kirkwood before going onto the University of Iowa to earn bachelor and master of business administration degrees. She also has a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Iowa State University.
But Fisher didn’t want to lead just any community college.
“One of my commitments I made to myself was I wouldn’t pursue an opportunity unless it was a good fit for me,” she said.
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Hawkeye’s vision and mission statements that speak of serving a diverse community, providing exceptional student services and developing a globally informed community were the first hints that it would be. “As educators,” she said, “our priority is diversity and inclusion. You can’t tackle the issue unless you say it is a priority.”
After eight years of leading student services at Kirkwood, she liked that student services are part of Hawkeye’s vision. “We all know that high quality education in the classroom is a non-negotiable,” said Fisher, but noted college experiences outside of class are also important.
Fisher described herself as a collaborative leader who champions transparency and maintains an open door policy. “I think the greatest things we do are in partnership with others,” she said.
Along with student services, Fisher touted her experience with fundraising for the Kirkwood Foundation and in public relations with College Community Schools in Cedar Rapids. Part of that time was focused on passing voter referendums, first for the school district and then for the college.
“I spent 4½-5 years working almost exclusively on bond and ballot issues,” she said.
While Fisher’s career didn’t include working as a full-time classroom instructor, she gained some insight about the challenges faculty face teaching a first-year experience class at Kirkwood called “College 101.”
“It reminded me how hard teaching is. It was a good way to remind me,” Fisher told a forum audience filled with Hawkeye faculty and staff. She acknowledged the importance of talking to faculty as part of the decision-making process as well as supporting them in other ways.
“I miss the campus deeply. I miss being around students,” she added. “I’m really excited about getting back to campus.”