Bambara ‘ready to hit ground running’

Published 8:40 am Friday, April 2, 2010

■ Fourth in a series

FRANKLIN—Dr. Cynthia Bambara may have been the last candidate interviewed for the presidency of Paul D. Camp Community College, but she is no stranger to community colleges.

Bambara has spent the last 18 years with the Virginia Community College System. She believes that experience, along with the networks she has built within the system, makes her an ideal candidate for the job.

“I don’t need to spend my time learning our system and learning networks,” Bambara said during an open forum with residents and college employees earlier this week. “I’m ready to hit the ground running.”

The Pennsylvania native is among four finalists for replacing PDCCC President Dr. Doug Boyce, who is retiring in June.

Bambara holds a bachelor’s in psychology, master’s in rehabilitation counseling and doctorate in philosophy of community college leadership. She is the vice president of student success and an associate professor at Lord Fairfax Community College. Bambara is also the chief administrative officer of the college’s Fauquier Campus and Luray-Page County Center.

She said she “wears a lot of different hats” at Lord Fairfax.

“You do what it takes when you work at a community college,” Bambara said.

Although she has spent nearly two decades working in the suburbs of Northern Virginia and spent time in New York, Bambara said she is used to rural living.

“I’m really not a city girl. I was born and raised on a farm in central Pennsylvania,” she said. “I spent my summers laying irrigation pipes and working on a potato harvester.”

Bambara described PDCCC as “a very caring and student-focused organization.”

While community colleges are known for making education accessible, Bambara said student success should also be a paramount concern.

“We have to be relentless about student success,” she said. “Access is meaningless unless the students can be successful.”

New strategies to strengthen support services, increase scholarship and financial aid and promote guaranteed admission agreements with other colleges are areas that Bambara is interested in pursuing.

“These are things I know that are common threads in all of our community colleges,” she said.

A big challenge for all of the state’s community colleges has to do with state budget cuts.

“The one and only thing we know for sure is that we’re not getting any more money from Richmond.” Bambara said. “We can only hope that they don’t take more money away from us.”

She said colleges will have to come up with new and creative ways to generate funding, like partnering with each other and others in the community.

Bambara said she encourages creating a “shared vision” as president and including stakeholders from the college and community. She described herself as a “servant leader.”

“I’m never one that would expect any of you to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself,” she told college employees.

She said her leadership style is “participatory” and “collaborative,” but added, “if the building is on fire, I’m not going to wait to collaborate with you.”

There are occasionally situations when split-second decisions have to be made and the leader has to be decisive, she said.

Workforce development is a key component of community colleges, especially in areas experiencing economic distress. Bambara is aware of the issues the region faces as International Paper Co. prepares to shut down its Franklin mill, eliminating 1,100 jobs.

“We need to continue working with the workforce in creative ways to help them transform into new careers as quickly as possible, and as a community college, being responsive to that need is part of our mission,” she said.

Bambara also said it’s important that the college work with local economic development officials to help attract “new opportunities” to the region.

“I think that the area has a tremendous potential for economic growth for the commonwealth, and we need to work together to make that happen,” she said.

Bambara lives in Warrenton. She and her husband, Michael, have two adult sons.

Dr. Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, is expected to name PDCCC’s next president this month.