For Dr. Debra L. McCurdy, who began her tenure earlier this month as the 14th president of Baltimore City Community College (BCCC), the task that lies ahead sounds simple enough.
“Put the students and the welfare of the students first and have a culture that embraces that,” McCurdy told the Baltimore Times in her first media interview since officially taking over earlier this month. “This is the place you would want to be because everywhere you look, you’ll see us embrace a culture of students first.”
McCurdy replaces James H. Johnson Jr. Ph.D., who has served as interim president following the retirement last July of Gordon May. May served a four-year tenure as president.
“BCCC has been an asset for Baltimore City for more than 70 years and I am confident that with the executive leadership and under my direction Baltimore City Community College will continue to transform the lives of its students,” McCurdy said. “As we work to provide students with the best possible preparation to meet their goals— whether through an associate degree, certificate program or job training— I know the entire college community will be inspired and set their sights on a new level of excellence.”
With more than three decades of experience as an administrator, McCurdy served as president of Rhodes State College in Ohio for 11 years and oversaw the transition of the school as it expanded programs to include an associate of arts and associate of science degrees. She has also worked as provost and CEO for Georgia Perimeter College’s Dunwoody Campus and as an assistant and associate provost at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia.
“As I sat and spoke with the board chair at BCCC and the rest of the board members and they talked discreetly about the college and what our evolution can be and the next steps in moving forward, it appeared to be the right time to bring together some of my previous experiences and an opportunity to come some place different where there’s a need,” McCurdy said.
As she considered accepting the presidency at BCCC, McCurdy says she checked all of the requisite personal boxes.
“You think, if this is the right time? If this is the right place? Each time, I kept coming up with a resounding yes that this is the right time and the right place,” she said. “This is it. This is that next big move,” said McCurdy, who earned a bachelor of science, a masters of education, and a doctoral degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
“I think I knew very early on that higher education was going to be a pathway for me,” McCurdy said. “I’ve had a great advantage and opportunity in working with individuals who came in with years of experience and who were willing to help shape my life personally and professionally.”
McCurdy says that among the most satisfying experiences for college presidents and all educators is watching students walk across the podium to accept their hard-earned degrees.
“What you see on their faces, just the excitement and now they’re moving on to a new phase,” McCurdy said. “It’s what it’s all about; that we got them there and we delivered on the promise that when they came here, we promised to see them through no matter what.
“And, people should expect that we would make good on our promise and that we’ve made that investment in the students and have given them back to the community with interest.”