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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Atwater Leaves Strong Legacy at SMCC

After nine years as the president of South Mountain Community College (SMCC), Ken Atwater, PhD is moving on, but not after leaving SMCC in a better position to serve the needs of its surrounding communities.

A 25-year veteran of the nation’s community college systems, Atwater has accepted a position as president of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida

Atwater emphasizes that the goal of any college president is to improve the role the college plays in meeting the needs of the local population.

“When I came on board, it was to be part of a fantastic team and a fantastic district, “said Atwater. “I leave knowing that we improved [SMCC’s] ability to respond to the community’s needs.”

Under his leadership, South Mountain Community College has contributed significantly to the South Phoenix community, introducing educational programs, strengthening community relationships and developing partnerships that support the college and the community it serves.

In 2003, SMCC opened its new Performing Arts Center and the 350-seat Performance Hall, which together feature dance and music recitals and jazz festivals as well as storytelling festivals and workshops in conjunction with the college’s Storytelling Institute.

In 2007 and 2008, to meet the needs of the ever-expanding South Mountain community, SMCC acquired land in the high growth communities of Laveen and Ahwatukee to eventually build two new permanent SMCC campus locations.

Just last year, SMCC was successfully re-accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, reinforcing itself as the college of choice for more than 8,000 students who annually pursue associates degrees, certificates of completion and transferrable credits for higher degrees at universities and colleges across the country.

In addition to positioning SMCC as an excellent community resource, Atwater has also encouraged outreach to the local community and the development of relationships with leading organizations. For instance, SMCC collaborated with Phoenix College and Banner Health to introduce the Bilingual Nursing Fellowship Program (BNFP), and encourage students with the ability to speak, write and read fluently in English and Spanish to enter the field of nursing.

Completed in 2008, the NAU @ SMCC building epitomizes the joint effort between SMCC and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to offer SMCC students who have earned their associates degrees the chance to pursue their bachelor’s degrees without transferring to another college or university.

One of the college’s latest and greatest accomplishments is the new community library, which broke ground at the end of 2009.

According to Atwater, the collaborative effort between SMCC and the City of Phoenix is unique not only here in the Valley, but across the country. The library is the result of working with the Phoenix mayor and city council members to pool resources and maximize community reach.

The South Mountain Community Library will provide meeting space, multi-media resources including books, magazines and DVDs, computer labs, small group meeting rooms and a cybercafé, plus space and programs for younger South Phoenix residents. The library is scheduled for completion in 2011.

While SMCC has risen to meet the needs of South Phoenix, local residents are seeing the value in what SMCC can provide them, as a school and as a community resource.

“We got our community to embrace SMCC as their college,” said Atwater.

Just a sampling of what SMCC has done under Atwater’s guidance; Atwater will take his experiences with him to Florida.

Dr. Atwater assumed his new position at Hillsborough Community College on July 1. The multi-campus college, which serves 44,000 students a semester, offers Atwater an opportunity to oversee one of the country’s premiere institutions.

“It’s the equivalent of serving as chancellor here at MCC [Maricopa Community College system],” said Atwater, who is honored to follow Hillsborough’s outgoing president Dr. Gwendolyn Stephenson.

SMCC’s current vice president of administrative services Dr. Joyce Elsner will serve as interim president in Atwater’s absence and Maricopa Community Colleges will search for a permanent replacement.

When asked if his time at SMCC had proved beneficial: “By far, my experience at SMCC/MCC has really prepared me to work and to lead a multi-campus college.”

For more information about SMCC, visit on online at www.southmountaincc.edu.


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