By Karisma Boyd
PAMELA Gunter-Smith will retire June 30 after spending 10 years as president of York College.
When appointed to this role July 1, 2013, she had already broken barriers before her first day of presidency. As the school’s fourth president, she was the first female; her predecessors were Ray A. Miller, Ph.D. (1968–75), Robert V. Iosue, Ph.D., (1976–91) and George Waldner (1991-2013)
Along with being the first woman, she also was the first woman president of color as well. Gunter-Smith was not fazed by the history of York College or York County’s conservative community; after all, she did accept the position.
Fortunately, what made the president even more confident in her choices was the acceptance she received from the district. “I will say that [my husband] J.L and I, we were welcomed here with open arms by the entire community.” she said during a conversion with members of The Spartan staff on April 12. “Not just the community of color but the entire community as new president.”
With York accepting Gunter-Smith with open arms, she sought to create connections between York College and the community. In October 2013, the president created Spartan Service Day, a volunteer program that puts students and faculty in the streets of York City to help rejuvenate the neighborhoods.
Not only that, Gunter-Smith partnered with Yorktowne Hotel at the beginning of its renovation, providing students with opportunities to get hands-on experience with the hospitality and customer service environment. And the opening of Marketview Arts in 2015 in downtown York to bring everyone together and connect over these interests.
She also said during the interview that she was particularly proud of the Center for Community Engagement “and the way we’ve been able to bridge the gap between the community and the college. We are part of the community and I’ve always said as the college goes, the city goes, and vice versa. We’ve been able to really forge those relationships, but it allows us to provide opportunities for students for internships or what have you that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The school’s ability to handle COVID was another accomplishment she mentioned. When the pandemic hit, she said, as many institutions were closing amid “massive amounts of cases, I made the decision in May or June that we were going to reopen for the fall. We just had to figure out how to do it. We were able to do that. Was it perfect? No. … But I think that we met that challenge.”
She admitted that she “lost three years” during the pandemic, where projects like Knowledge Park that should have been completed by now were negatively affected by supply-chain issues and higher costs. “I feel that’s one thing I hoped would have been finished before I left, but I’m sure that will be finished by my successor,” she said.
She said she was hopeful that the new degree planner will enable students to assemble the classes they need for their major in order to graduate, that the school will improve some of its course offerings at it relates to gen ed courses, and that it will be able to develop further its program for health professionals.
The president has had success with having her proposals come to fruition but also admitted there have been some lessons learned throughout her time here.
One took place in February 2019 when the administration was called out for false advertising on a billboard in Spring Garden Township, where a photo-op was edited with the intent to promote diversity.
Instead of the marketing team reshooting it, they photoshopped other students on top of the original selection and it caught traction with the community along with the press. Although the president stated she was not directly a part of the creative decision, she was the main receiver of the backlash and years later still sees it as a redefining moment within her tenure.
“I have to own it, I officially apologized for it. I’ve tried to explain, and what it was, quite frankly, was just sloppy work,” Gunter-Smith said. “So, what you know now is the way in which things are perceived by different groups of people and how do you manage that.”
As the semester comes to an end in the next few weeks, spring in full effect, and the students basking in the warm weather outdoors, Gunter-Smith is making her rounds on campus. She is seen taking advantage of the warm weather, engaging with students and faculty before she passes the torch to the 2023 president-elect, Thomas Burns in the summer.
With almost a decade here under her belt, Gunter-Smith said it was time.
” I’m excited. I’m excited for your college because, you know, did I get everything done? No. Do I still have ideas? Yes. But, you know, in today’s world 10 years as the president of an institution is a long time. The average tenure of a college president now is five to six years, because of the complexity of what’s going on in higher education with respect to overall enrollments, with respect to finances, with respect to compliance issues, is just huge.
“I’ll get as much done as I can” over the next couple of months, she said. “Prepare the way for for him. I’ll leave a little note for him in the desk drawer. And I am always a Zoom call away while continuing to give as much support as I can.”
Her presidency has proven that the length of her tenure does not promise the impact nor the legacy that she has created for herself; instead, it’s about the decisions made and its longevity that will support student and faculty success at the college along with the community surrounding it.
“The college is different and the world is different and the way in which we need to prepare students is different than it was 10 years ago,” she said. “I think that Dr. Burns will come in with his vision that will refresh the institution in a different way. Nowadays, no one should be a president for 20 years at an institution.”
Within the next couple of months, the couple will vacate the President’s House and move to the Atlanta area.
Staff, faculty and friends have been invited to join Gunter-Smith and husband on May 15 for their Great to Greater farewell party on the Main Campus lawn with food, DJ Tommy Gun, and collectible T-shirts. Students are invited to a similar party on May 5.
Karisma Boyd is a junior majoring in Mass Communications.
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