Florida A&M University alumna Daria J. Willis, Ph.D., will leave Everett Community College (EvCC), Washington, at the end of the year to become the next president of Howard Community College (HCC) in Columbia, Maryland, both schools announced.
Willis, who started at EvCC in July 2019, announced her resignation Thursday, Nov. 4 to students, faculty and staff. The HCC board of trustees voted unanimously to hire Willis at a public meeting earlier that day.
“The trustees were impressed with Dr. Willis’s energy and accomplishments, her commitment to students and their education, and her steadfast focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in her work,” said Christopher G. Marasco, chair of the HCC board of trustees. “We look forward to working alongside her as she leads Howard Community College into the future.”
Willis will be HCC’s fifth president and first African American president.
“My educational philosophy has always been to focus on students and put them at the heart of everything you do, so I am incredibly honored to lead a college whose mission is providing pathways to success,” Willis said in a statement released by HCC. “Community colleges are in the business of transforming lives of students and their families. As the next president, I commit 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.”
Willis earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at FAMU and a Ph.D. in history from Florida State University. A former member of the FAMU Marching “100,” Willis began her teaching career at FAMU before moving to Tallahassee Community College. Before being named EvCC president, she was the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York.
During Willis’ presidency, EvCC also secured $43.5 million from the Washington state Legislature to fund construction of the new Cascade Learning Resource Center; received $2.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to support TRiO and STEM programs for students of color, students who are low-income and students with disabilities; and earned a $50,000 Rise Prize grant and part of a $100,000 Washington Department of Labor grant went to the development and launch of a Weekend College for adult students and student parents.
One innovative way Willis found to support students was using Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) to cancel $1.2 million in student debt owed to the college for more than 3,000 students who attended classes spring quarter 2020 through summer quarter 2021. The college is also providing free on-campus housing for the 2021-22 academic year for current students enrolled in 12 or more credits.
Willis has served the Everett community and Washington state as a member of the Community Mission board for Providence Regional Medical Center, Snohomish Aerospace Task Force, Girl Scouts of Western Washington board, Seattle Chapter of the International Women’s Forum, Economic Alliance of Snohomish County board and the board of the United Way of Snohomish County, the statement said.
“This was a very difficult decision as I have enjoyed the progress we have made on behalf of students. This new position will bring me closer to my family, and it will offer me another opportunity to lead a college whose mission is providing pathways to success. It is an honor to lead at EvCC and I am extremely proud of the resiliency of our students, faculty and staff during the pandemic,” Willis said in a letter to EvCC students, faculty and staff.
Willis will start her presidency on January 10, 2022. She succeeds Kate Hetherington, who retired October 1, 2021, after 14 years as president.