The Community College of Aurora will undergo a changing of the guard this month as current president Betsy Oudenhoven retires after 10 years at the college and a 42-year career in higher education.
Her successor Mordecai Brownlee will become CCA’s new president on July 15 after serving as the vice president for student success at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas.
The Colorado Community College System selected Brownlee to lead the institution out of more than 80 applicants and three finalists.
“We wanted someone with an entrepreneurial spirit who would expand CCA’s reach and partnerships, and experience in strategic enrollment management who will be able to reverse the declines in students and revenues facing the institution during these challenging times,” system Chancellor Joe Garcia said in a release announcing Brownlee’s selection. “CCCS’s goals of diversity, equity and inclusion also called for someone who will champion learning environments that promote student success for Aurora’s growing and increasingly diverse communities.”
The system’s feeling that Brownlee is the best fit for the job is mutual.
“What attracted me to CCA was the understanding of its mission and its vision to ensure that every student can succeed,” Brownlee told the Sentinel in a recent interview.
The college’s long-term focus on equity is something that Brownlee said he has admired since first meeting people who have worked at CCA, and when the job opened up he felt compelled to apply.
Brownlee spoke highly of Oudenhoven, and that he plans to continue the leader’s work to make the college more equitable and focused on student success.
“She has been amazing in sharing the story of CCA and really empowering me and encouraging me to say now it’s time to take it to the next level,” he said.
Oudenhoven in turn said she is excited to see where Brownlee leads the college.
“He’s going to be able to take the college where we need to go,” she said last month. “He is the person that will take us to the next chapter.”
Brownlee is candid about the challenges facing the college as it emerges from the pandemic, but he said he also believes that the future is rife with opportunities for it to grow.
“I see every challenge as an opportunity,” he said. “The challenge is ensuring the Community College of Aurora is seen as a primary factor of empowerment economically within our community.”
As a community college, he said he believes that CCA is well-positioned to offer the types of certificates and degree programs that many people may be looking for during the economic recovery. Working to dispel the stigma around community colleges will be part of that puzzle, he said.
Another factor will be putting together a strategic enrollment plan to help boost enrollment in the college’s service area. As Aurora and the surrounding region continue to grow, “we have to be a part of the growth trajectory of our community,” he said.
Addressing the issue of academic freedom, Brownlee said that “we have a responsibility as educators to inform and provide factual information and promote critical thinking. It is so important that we are not only producing productive individuals but individuals who can think and process and be able to separate fact from fiction.”
The college’s focus on equity is about helping all students create better futures for themselves.
“We learn from the past and we do better,” he said. “But to deny any aspects of the past sets us up for failure and for repeated mistakes.”
Making sure that students have economic opportunities in their own communities is key to helping them succeed, Brownlee said, and he wants to build more partnerships with local businesses and other organizations.
He said he plans to be an active presence in the community promoting the college. He’ll be sporting his signature look.
“I am passionate about student success and I am passionate about bow ties,” he said with a laugh.
When he isn’t representing the college, he says he’s looking forward to spending time exploring Colorado’s outdoors with his wife and two children in their RV and getting to know Aurora.
“We’re looking forward to just being a part of the community,” he said.