GCC Welcomes 10th President Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernández

August 20, 2018

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, 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 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 the traditional, academically well-prepared 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.”

Ask the Chair of GCC’s Board of Trustees Robbie Cohn how he feels about the new President and he can barely contain his excitement. He said, “Dr Salomon-Fernández is talented, smart, ambitious, very street smart, 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. I am exceedingly excited. We’re not looking to replace Bob Pura, we’re looking for his successor. I believe we’ve really found her. She is perfect for this moment. We’ve got a star coming here and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.”

Not only is Salomon-Fernández perfect to lead GCC, GCC and the Pioneer Valley are the right place for Salomon-Fernández 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.”

Franklin County and Cumberland County, New Jersey, where Salomon-Fernández has served as President of Cumberland County College, are both similar and different. She said, “Cumberland County College is also in a rural area, the county that puts the ‘garden’ in New Jersey’s reputation as the ‘Garden State.’ Like the Pioneer Valley, there is a lot of agriculture and manufacturing in that county, as well as many pioneering business people and ordinary people. It is the poorest county in New Jersey as Franklin County is the poorest in Massachusetts. Franklin County wears its pioneering identity differently than Cumberland County and is more progressive. My values and idealism align with the Pioneer Valley and GCC.”

Asked about her thought on rural colleges, Salomon-Fernández responded “This is the time for rural areas, and rural colleges. Eastern Massachusetts is busting at the seams and becoming unaffordable to young people, families, and businesses. Where do you go? Western Mass, naturally. We have challenges here in our more rural areas and our elected officials across the state are responding. We’re also seeing more attention being paid to the marginalized and rural poor nationally. If this country is to thrive equitably, we have to get rid of our urban bias.”

Salomon-Fernández recognizes the challenges that GCC faces. She notes, “We’re small, and demographers predict enrollment will decline in the northeast. I’m also very aware of the limitations of internet availability and transportation. We need to be in the best position to support people and businesses, to help us discover how to evolve and thrive in a changing economy. We are losing institutional knowledge as Baby Boomers retire. We need to simultaneously figure out how to retain that institutional knowledge and also absorb new and different approaches. We need to have deep cultural dexterity and organizational ambidexterity to thrive in the current external environment. We will continue to lead and model and learn from others and have that edge. Bob Pura did a phenomenal job of building a strong leadership team and of having a strong collaborative relationship with the community. I am coming into strong connections on campus and in the community. Also, GCC is a leader across the state in student retention and graduation, as well as in sustainable energy. I will work to help us continue to be a leader in those areas and more.”

Looking ahead to her first months at GCC, Salomon-Fernández says, “I plan to get to know my colleagues at the college and I want to spend time in the community, getting to know all of GCC’s stakeholders. This is a great time for western Massachusetts. There is a strong cadre of forward-looking college presidents in western Massachusetts. There is also a strong sense of intellectualism here. I’m eager to be a co-leader among other leaders, within and outside of higher education, advancing the Pioneer Valley. I embrace that fully and I look forward to a long tenure at GCC that is positively transformative working collaboratively with the community. Transformation takes time.”

Continuing, Salomon-Fernández 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.”

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