“As a mom, as a spouse, as a woman, as an immigrant, I wanted to find a place where my whole family can thrive. This is that place.”
If you ask Yves Salomon-Fernández how she feels about becoming Greenfield Community College’s 10th President, she’ll tell you that “it is as if the stars have aligned.” She continued, “The totality of my experiences as a student and professional has perfectly prepared me for this moment. I have been in community colleges, resource-rich institutions, public research institutions and elite academic institutions. Each has helped me understand who we are, who we are becoming, who we aspire to be as institutions and a society. As higher education professionals, we want our students to discover who they can be. We help them continue on their journey to discovering and fulfilling their potential.”
Salomon-Fernández’s list of academic and professional accomplishments shows the extent of her leadership experience in higher education. Clearly, that experience makes her immensely qualified for her new role at GCC.
Yet there’s more to Salomon-Fernández than her professional credentials. She also brings a powerful combination of life experiences that make her uniquely qualified to lead GCC in this moment. She said, “I am an immigrant who learned English and Spanish here in Massachusetts. I have been living on my own starting when I was a junior in high school. I am a survivor of domestic violence. These experiences allow me to relate better to our students. I have benefited from who we are as the United States of America, and I have a responsibility to continue to open doors for others. Others allow me to continue to reach my full potential, and I work collaboratively with people to reach theirs. I want GCC to continue to be a place where both traditional, academically well-prepared students and marginalized students can thrive. I want to keep GCC as a place where people can turn around their lives, start anew, no matter who they are, and what their journey has been. GCC is the place to do that.”
Chair of GCC’s Board of Trustees Robbie Cohn said, “Dr Salomon-Fernández is talented, smart, ambitious, very savvy, and well-educated. She speaks four languages and has a wealth of experience. She was the unanimous pick of 11 trustees out of a group of five excellent candidates. We were not looking to replace Bob Pura, we were looking for his successor. I believe we’ve found her. She is perfect for this moment.”
Salomon-Fernández also believes that the Pioneer Valley is the right place for her and her family. She said, “As a mom, as a spouse, as a woman, as an immigrant, I wanted to find a place where my whole family can thrive. This is that place. My husband is passionate about his disciplines, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. He can thrive here. My kids have a deep appreciation for art and the natural beauty of the Valley. When we lived in eastern Massachusetts, we used to visit the Berkshires regularly, driving across Route 2 and through this area. Of anywhere we could live in the world, this is where we picked.”
She continued, “I was attracted by the social justice commitment, the feeling that this area is up and coming, that there is a good mix of established people and professionals complemented by younger folks moving things forward. This is a phenomenal fit for me and my family. With GCC, we share common values and a commitment to community. I have no doubt that this will be a ‘great marriage.’”
From her first time on campus, Salomon-Fernández recognized the unique world that is Greenfield Community College. She said, “During each of my visits to GCC, I felt a strong sense of family and a deep sense of caring—authentic, genuine caring. It was deeply meaningful to me to see the little bits of the mosaic of community here. People take care of each other on campus. During my interview, I was cold (I’m from the Caribbean, I’m often cold) and others in the room immediately loaned me gloves and a shawl. That is caring.”
In her first semester as GCC President, Salomon-Fernández has been getting to know her colleagues and the students at the College. Examples include the establishment of drop-in office hours for employees to check in with her on any topic, “Pizza with the Prez” listening sessions with students, and departmental luncheons hosted by Salomon-Fernández as a way to get to know her workforce.
She has also spent time in the community connecting with GCC’s partners and supporters and getting acquainted with Franklin and Hampshire County institutions. She has attended several area Chambers of Commerce networking events and engaged with partner non-profit organizations at both the administrative and program levels, with activities such as volunteering with her family to serve the Thanksgiving meal at Stone Soup Café.
“I’m eager to be a co-leader among other leaders, within and outside of higher education, advancing the Pioneer Valley,” she said. “I approach my work and any new experience with a certain level of humility and I look forward to what the community and the pioneers of ‘Happy Valley’, as I have heard residents dub this little corner of the state, will teach me. We’ll have a lot of fun. We’ll build on our foundation. The future is bright.”