DeMarte looks to innovate in ‘welcoming atmosphere’
From big campuses to small, newly-appointed Jamestown Community College President Daniel DeMarte admitted there will be an adjustment period. But the new leader of the community college is confident his 26 years of experience has prepared him for his next challenge.
Sitting in his office, DeMarte officially began in August as the college’s president. DeMarte is originally from Angelica and later graduated from Archbishop Walsh High School in Olean. So for him, Western New York is home. An enormous pull for DeMarte to pursue his current position was being closer to family.
Though he admitted his education career will serve him well as president, he preferred to assess Jamestown’s situation separate from his previous experiences.
“Part of my challenge is I need to learn the culture here and what’s its rhythms and what does it do well, what does it not do well in order to for me to adapt (certain) strategies,” he said.
DeMarte is not a complete stranger to the State University of New York system as he previously served in an entry-level position at Genesee Community College to begin his career. On top of his education background, DeMarte also served in the military. He served in the United States Air Force from 1985-89.
DeMarte was most recently the executive vice president for academic and student affairs at Tidewater Community College in Virginia where he lived for nine years. Altogether, DeMarte said he and his wife were gone from the area for 22 years.
“It felt like, especially early on, the job was sort of pulling me here,” DeMarte said. “But I’d also reached a point — my wife and I both had — where it feels like it’s time to be closer to family.”
DeMarte also served as vice provost for student and learning development at Macomb Community College in Michigan and served as vice president for learning at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
DeMarte helped institute the Z degree, the very first textbook-free degree and helped create an open educational resources policy development tool while serving as a Fellow at the Center for Open Leadership in Cape Town, South Africa.
At his previous post at Tidewater, the new president said he had a hand in all things academic. Faculty, programs, courses, professional development, curricula and libraries were all aspects of his former job.
While having driven by Jamestown on numerous occasions, DeMarte’s first visit to JCC was during the interview process. Now, in his first few weeks as president, he has gotten to see much more of the campus. He said he intends to visit as much of the facilities as possible before students begin their courses.
“The campus is beautiful,” DeMarte said of his first impression of the community college.
Already, DeMarte has visited the Olean and Dunkirk facilities as well.
“One of the things I love about (JCC) in all of its locations, from the student perspective, it feels like every space is welcoming,” DeMarte said. “I want to be in the space. Whether it’s the library, or the kitchen or the classrooms, it’s a very inviting atmosphere. I would hope that’s a draw for students who come to (JCC) and they want to see the campus regardless of where it is.”
DeMarte said the welcoming feeling was present outside JCC too. A week before his start date, he already had people coming up to him from the college introducing themselves at a local grocery store.
The biggest contrast among JCC and Tidewater is the difference in sheer amount of resources, according to DeMarte. The limited resources at JCC is an area where DeMarte is looking to innovate.
“We probably could be doing more in the technical program side because we have emphasized mostly the transfer side – that’s been our history,” he said. “But we’ve got to start looking at that technical side because that’s where the jobs are and where our business partners are saying ‘we need your help.'”
DeMarte said the goal is now to zero in on where the curriculum can be addressed to reflect the technical side. He said an area he mostly has his eye on is manufacturing, but also on healthcare. Overall, DeMarte wants to look at JCC’s programming as a whole and expanding its connections with the surrounding community.
“How do we think more holistically in terms of how we program?” he said. “How do we make stronger and better connections with the business community while maintaining relationships that we have right now that are strong with K-12 and the universities?”
“We all know what the menu is,” he said of JCC’s staff. “We’ll help figure out what the solution is.”
He acknowledged that JCC is down in enrollment, but maintained that the majority of community colleges are in the same situation. Enrollment is a focus area where he also wants to innovate.
“How do we get the message out and get the students to recognize what we offer?” he said.
DeMarte remained confident in himself and JCC as a whole. He emphasized the quality of the college’s facilities, its staff and its board as reasons to remain optimistic.
“The signals are there for us to do more,” he said. “We’ve got to realign ourselves so we are capable of doing that.”
On top of the many obligations DeMarte faces in his first semester as JCC’s president, he is determined to learn as many faces around the college as possible — almost as if to reciprocate the campus’ welcoming vibe.