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Columbia Inspired

Making History

Aug 28, 2022 08:26PM ● By Bethany Good

Dr. Daria Willis is like a breath of fresh air to Howard Community College. Her credentials and accomplishments are astounding. She is the first African American to lead the college in its 52-year history. She was also the first African-American president of Everett Community College in Washington State. Dr. Willis also received recognition as a 2022 Influential Marylander for the Maryland Daily Record. It’s easy to see her as a groundbreaker and inspiration to her faculty and students.

Moving to Columbia has proven to be a great step for her family. “There is no reason why you can’t love this community. We’ve never been in a place with this much diversity. I’m impressed with the resources available to students and my own family,” she says. “It’s been a better vibe and a great feel. I’m so glad we took the leap of faith to apply to this position.”

Dr. Willis is proud to work at one of the most respected community colleges in the country. “HCC is at the forefront of innovation and change,” she says. She is clear about the role of community colleges in society. She wants the people of Howard County to see the value in preparing and training students for the current job market, with specialties in workforce development, apprenticeships, skilled trades, and careers in technical fields. “I’d like our community members to see that not everyone wants to go to a four-year institution, and not every family wants to put their child into debt. That’s where HCC comes in. We want to change the narrative in regards to what community colleges are capable of. We want to prepare these students for the future.”

Speaking to the future, community colleges are uniquely positioned to train students for careers in technology. For example, the need for well-trained cybersecurity experts continues to grow. Dr. Willis wants to be able to fill the gap in the labor market. “We are seeing every day why that is so important. We want to get more folks into this field to help protect our data, citizens, and institutions. We have a number of cybersecurity certifications and transfer programs, but we’d like to expand our offerings.”

Dr. Willis’ unique perspective and experience make her a thoughtful and caring leader. “When I was still a full-time teacher in Florida, I had a wonderful class that really impacted me. I learned so much from my students and their family histories that year. From that experience, I learned how important it was to care for and support the students and to be accessible.

 “I want to meet my students where they are, so I’m always on social media,” she laughs. Dr. Willis has a series on Instagram called “Conversations From The Couch,” where she does a 30-minute Q&A with

 students, faculty, staff, and community members. On campus, “The Dragons’ Den” is used as a time to talk to the students. The students have commented that they appreciate her accessibility and the opportunities she provides for engagement. Dr. Willis understands that the landscape of education, community, and the job market is changing and is using her experience to usher HCC into the future.


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