A Little About Me . . .

Most of my life, happily, has been in or around higher education. My parents, both first-generation college graduates, met in Michigan State’s graduate psychology program. They raised me in a higher-education rich environment. My father taught psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. I grew up in Madison, a lovely Garden State suburb that has become wealthier over the years. It is also the home of Drew University, where I saw Bruce Springsteen cover bands and had a brief stint as a radio DJ. I attended public schools and after graduating from Madison High School I journeyed to Rice University in Houston, TX, for a baccalaureate, majoring in English and Philosophy. Rice provided me with an extraordinary undergraduate education. I worked through much of college and met amazing people, in the Rice community and in Houston.

I returned to the greater New York metropolitan area to not be a lawyer (an end-of-college decision facilitated by working for a year in a law firm). After bouncing around I landed an administrative position doing budgeting in the Faculty of Arts and Science at New York University. It was tremendously interesting to support a major university working to become a great institution, even in this small role. The position allowed me to earn an MA at night and tuition remission covered the cost. NYU hooked me on higher education and I decided that I had found a career path.

Faculty and staff at NYU were outstanding role models and advisors. They urged me to pursue a doctorate and Tony Judt mentored me to Cambridge University, where I earned a PhD. My dissertation looks at early twentieth century American conservatives (a more complicated cross-Atlantic project proved intractable). Through my graduate work I returned to the US and held other spots at NYU.

With the PhD in hand I went next to Baruch College of The City University of New York. Work in the Provost’s Office put me at the center of the college, and again, I was very fortunate to work with outstanding faculty and staff. I am so very grateful. I learned and grew, and was promoted to Associate Provost for the Teaching and Learning Environment. The History Department at Baruch graciously welcomed me and allowed me to teach. I love to teach. Hunter College, another CUNY institution, followed, where I was Associate Provost/aVP for Academic Affairs.

For the following next five years I served as the Chief Academic Officer at Curry College in Milton, MA. Curry is a less selective residential private institution with a pre-professional focus. The role was exhilarating with a steep learning curve. The CAO position schooled me in academic leadership, in the nature of different kinds of institutions, and a host of other skills. The people who worked at Curry and the students who studied there were excellent teachers to me.

Now I am the president of Wilbur Wright College, one of the seven community colleges in the City Colleges of Chicago system. A vibrant and diverse institution in northwest Chicago, Wright College offers associates degrees and a wide range of certificates. Nearly 132000 credit-seeking students enroll each semester at the main campus and our Humboldt Park Vocational Education Center, with thousand more students in Continuing Education and Adult Education. It is more than a position; leading a community college is a life choice. I am very grateful and appreciative for the role. We are making a difference.

It may appear that I am firmly within the academy. I see myself more on the academic quad’s perimeter, with one foot in and one foot out. It is a common feeling for folks in academic administrative positions, and a deep commitment to how students experience higher education compound the sensation. In my role as president, it is woven into the job description: I have to lead internally and represent and advocate externally. Leading an institution is a tremendous responsibility. It is also extraordinarily gratifying, and I am deeply thankful for all the help and assistance that has made this opportunity possible.

David Potash