Dr. Daria Willis was appointed the new president of Howard Community College (HCC).
The HCC Board of Trustees made the announcement Nov. 4.
Dr. Willis, HCC’s fifth president, is currently president of Everett Community College in Washington and will become the first African-American to lead HCC in its 51-year history.
Dr. Willis, who will begin her job on Jan. 10, replaces Dr. Kate Hetherington, who served as president of HCC for 14 years.
“I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams as a descendant of slaves and folks who grew up in the Mississippi and Georgia environment,” said Dr. Willis.
But, she added in a phone interview with The Business Monthly, she’d rather talk about inclusivity and belonging than talk about race.
“The Civil War ended in 1865,” said Dr. Willis, who was also the first African-American president at Everett Community College. “At what point will we just look at people for their talents?”
At 37 years of age, her experience, in addition to Everett, includes leadership positions at Onondaga Community College in New York; Lee College in Baytown, Texas; Lone Star College-North Harris Greenspoint Center and Victory Center; and Lone Star College-University Park Campus in Texas.
Along the way, she developed a course entitled “Hip Hop in United States History.”
She began her career in academia as an adjunct faculty member in history at Tallahassee Community College in Florida.
“I rose up the career ladder very quickly,” said Dr. Willis. “When I was hired at Everett, I was 34 – and the news then was she’s the youngest and she’s Black. I’ve had to move around to get the positions and the opportunities. I was unwilling to sit and be a dean for 20 years.”
She believes the career ladder is changing, both in her personal path and in the paths of community college students.
But, she added, “I am so tired of moving. I want my kids to have a home they can come back to.”
Dr. Willis and her husband, Dr. Isiah David Brown, are parents to daughter Lyric, who has plans to attend HCC in the spring; nine-year-old son Isiah; and three-year-old daughter Imani.
“My children had an opportunity to see the country more than I did when I was growing up,” she said. “The world is their oyster. I hope our HCC students see that as well. There is a whole world out there and we need their expertise.”
Her experiences seeing different parts of the country has allowed her to see people behaving in different ways, she added.
“Now, coming to Howard County, I’ve had enough moving,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting some roots down into the community. I want to raise my family at HCC and in the community.”
She plans to share with students at HCC the mentality that worked for her. “If you have an opportunity that’s in front of you, say yes. Once you hit that space, now it’s my time to turn back around and help someone else come up.”
During the HCC search process, Dr. Willis said she had a chance to talk to some representatives of the business community.
“First and foremost, I want to get out there and meet the business community,” she said.
She added, “I’m also looking forward to learning about all the great things that the business and industry partners have done at HCC and where they want to go next,” she said. “How can we work together with our business partners? I’d like to have sit-down chats and coffee.”
HCC’s student body is much more diverse than Everett’s, added Dr. Willis, who was not only impressed by HCC’s facilities but also with people’s warmth.
“People care about each other,” she said. “You can feel it in their actions. I can’t wait to get there, and my family is super excited.”
Dr. Willis is committed to “empowering the college and the Howard County community, inspiring innovation, closing the achievement gap among students and advocating for social justice, equity, and education for all.”
At Everett Community College, she reports to a five-member board of trustees, manages a $73 million budget and oversees an institution with 840 employees.
Among her presidential accomplishments are the adoption of the Guided Pathways framework across the college to help close achievement gaps and promote student success and achievement, collaborative leadership of a new advising model to assist students with course selection and degree completion, and completion of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities mid-cycle review process for accreditation.
She also secured $43.5 million from the Washington state legislature to fund the new Learning Resource Center that broke ground in September 2021.
Dr. Willis earned her Ph.D. in history from Florida State University. She holds a master’s degree in history and a bachelor’s degree in history education from Florida A&M University, a historically Black college in Florida.
HCC’s Board of Trustees conducted a national search to find the college’s fifth president, working in collaboration with AGB Search, an executive search firm.