WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY 2011
President Regina Peruggi, Kingsborough Community College
What inspired you to pursue your current career? I think the age during which I grew up and the education I received had the most significant influence on my career choice. I was in high school and college during the 1960s and was very influenced by the Kennedy era during which time there was a great emphasis on entering public service. In addition, my education was also very focused on values and emphasized not just “getting a job,” but rather, making sure that you chose a career that would make a difference in the lives of your fellow man. Initially, I considered joining the Peace Corps, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t. Instead I was able to find a position as a social worker in a treatment center for female drug abusers. This became the first of many positions that I’ve been privileged to hold throughout my career.
Challenges & Resolutions: I think some of the challenges I faced were around completing graduate studies. Pursuing a career in higher education demands graduate credentials and it took me a long time to get myself back to school after graduating from college. In fact, it took more than 15 years after graduation to make the decision to start back, and then it took another 10 years at night to complete my MBA and doctorate. Clearly, attending class at night and having a very responsible position during the day was difficult. How did I overcome the obstacles…I’m not sure except that once I got on track I just kept going. There seemed to be no other choice and I had good moral support from lots of close friends.
Other obstacles were more internal. I had little self-confidence for a long time and that was difficult to overcome, but I think I started to meet that challenge by pushing myself into difficult situations and getting through them. After a while you say…I can get through anything!
Accomplishments You’re Proudest Of: I’m proud of having developed the York College Community Learning Center many years ago. I’m proud of the CUNY literacy, GED and other adult programs that I was able to expand at the University. I believe that the 11 years I spent as president of Marymount Manhattan College made a difference. I am proud of the work that’s done every day in Central Park and I was part of that work for several years. And, I am so proud of the work that’s being done at Kingsborough Community College today. Community Colleges are the unsung heroes of this city as they provide access to higher education for thousands of students each year. My students seek higher education as the means to a better life for themselves and their families and I believe that everyone at Kingsborough understands that deep down. That is why their work is so good. We are, in fact, one of the top community colleges in the country!
Most Influential Mentors: Early on, I would say that my high school teachers were very instrumental in mentoring me. At my first job, my supervisor, a woman named Phyllis Hyde, really taught me everything I know about counseling and supervising other people. Jim Hall, my first boss in higher education was probably my most important mentor. He encouraged me, supported my work, challenged me to go further and taught me so much about education, about people and about life. In fact, I would have never gone as far as I have in higher education without his guidance and support. Mary Anne Schwalbe, who passed away only two years ago and who led the Women’s Refugee Commission for many years was another important mentor and close friend. I met Mary Anne when she was a trustee of Marymount Manhattan College and I looked to her as a role model for the type of person I would like to be. Her commitment, enthusiasm and caring for others were extraordinary. She was a mentor, model, friend and someone whom I turned to for advice in many areas of life! Finally, one of my best mentors, but more importantly, best friends is Dr. Augusta Kappner who recently retired as president of Bank Street College of Education. I worked for Gussie in 1984 and it changed my life. She was an inspiration, the best supervisor, colleague, teacher and mentor. The work we did together was important. We worked very hard but enjoyed every minute of it and had loads of fun as well. Some of the best lessons I learned in higher education I learned from her. Work hard, play hard, remember the little things…they count….respect everyone….and in everything you do…do it with passion! Gussie and I continue to like to work and play together. Last, but surely not least, there is a very special person in my life now. I met Jerry McCallion when he was a trustee at Marymount Manhattan. He was a committed trustee who was always there for the college and our students. We were friends for a long time and now I’m so lucky that he supports me every day with his patience, love and good humor. That’s a long way of saying …good people in your life make the real difference.
Turning Points: A pivotal point in my career came after having worked about six years at the City University. Finally, I took a deep breath and decided to go back to graduate school for my MBA. At the time I was running the York College Community Learning Center, which was almost entirely grant funded. I realized that, in fact, it was like running a small business and I wanted to develop my managerial and financial skills so that I could run the Center as effectively as possible. From this position I moved on to the Central Office of the University (a position I would not have obtained had I not been on my way to completing an advanced degree). It was there that I decided that I wanted to have the opportunity to make a more direct impact on students and returned again to school at night to pursue a doctorate. I knew that having the doctorate would give me the credential I needed to be considered for high-level administrative positions. And, it did!
Future Goals: My most immediate goal is to complete a project that we’re doing at Kingsborough with four community colleges across the country to help them look at their institutions and think about how they can refocus what they’re doing to have a more positive effect on student success. It’s an opportunity for us to share our work at Kingsborough to make an even greater impact. Our project is called “The Community College Jigsaw: Putting the Pieces Together.” We believe that unless you look at everything you do for students from the time they apply to the time they leave, make the changes that are necessary to improve their chances of success, and connect all the “pieces,” your best efforts won’t have the impact you want. That’s my immediate goal.
I’m also looking forward to continuing to pursue my interest in refugee women and children. I’ve been a board member, chairperson of the board and commissioner for the Women’s Refugee Commission for over 12 years and I want to continue to promote attention to the special needs of women and children refugees around the world. Similarly, CUNY is embarking on an important project to help restore and rebuild the education system in Haiti. We are planning to work with the budding group of community colleges in the country to strengthen their academic programs. I believe that this will make a major impact in opening up higher education to a larger percentage of the Haitian population who are seeking education and training. And, always, I’m looking forward to lots of fun in the years ahead. #