Pit Stop #11: Greenfield Community College

Double your pleasure, double your fun. What a treat it was to visit with both the President of Greenfield Community College, Yves Salomon-Fernandez, and the Chair of the Board, Robbie Cohn. (You can hear them both on my podcast below.) Not to spoil the surprise, but my favorite quote of the day was when I asked Robbie how he ended up as a student at GCC many years ago and he answered,

I was a loser. I flunked out of UMass and my mother told me I ought to enroll at Greenfield Community College. Good thing I listened to her. It was the place that I learned to love learning.”

Robbie Cohn, Chairman of the Board of Greenfield CC

No surprise, then, that Cohn has been and remains a very generous donor of his money and his time to the college that turned his life around and set him on a path to great career success.

president and chair of board of GCC
President Salomon-Fernandez & Chair of the Board Robbie Cohn

GCC is one of smallest of the fifteen community colleges in the Massachusetts system, located in one of the state’s poorest and most rural regions. Massachusetts was slow getting into the public community college movement and when Greenfield was founded in 1962, there were already nearly a thousand community and junior colleges in the country. It typically enrolls about 2,300 students, but this fall, like most community colleges in the region, it is down double digits (12%) in students.

inside new building at GCC
An inspiring space for learning.

With its beautiful location in Western Massachusetts, the college offers ambitious programs in adventure education, outdoor leadership, and the arts. GCC also takes seriously its role as a promoter of the greater community, hosting the renowned summer Green River Festival (now sadly delayed) and various enticing other activities dedicated to bringing people, money and attention to the area.

Welcome sign at GCC
Wishing the Green River Festival throngs were here!

As I was heading down in the elevator with Robbie after my visit had come to an end, I told him how fortunate the board was to have someone like Dr. Salomon-Fernandez leading the college. He couldn’t stop shaking his head yes, yes, and yes again.

President Yves Solomon-Fernandez checking out a hedge
Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez in the garden

Born in Haiti, Salomon-Fernandez came to the United States at the age of 12 and she is a role model extraordinaire for GCC students. She graduated from Boston Latin School and earned her undergraduate degree from UMass Boston, her master’s degree from the London School of Economics, and her doctorate from Boston College. She is a recognized thought leader on issues relating to rural innovation, equity, and women’s leadership and a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Community Development Council, with a special interest in the impact of opioids on rural communities.

You belong here.

Greenfield Community College’s motto is “You belong here” and even without students on campus, I could feel that sense of intentional inclusion as I listened to President Yves speak. Both Robbie and Yves emphasized over and over again how GCC is not just a community college, but the community’s college, with a responsibility to contribute positively in every possible way.

Leadership matters and I think you’ll hear rich evidence of that in my conversation with President Yves Salomon-Fernandez and Robbie Cohn below:

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