New leader coming to Arapahoe Community College

Dr. Stephanie Fujii understands the struggles of non-traditional students

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Dr. Stephanie Fujii wasn’t always sure college was right for her. But when she takes the helm of Arapahoe Community College as its new president on July 12, she says it’s exactly where she wants to be.

“I was an average student in high school,” said Fujii, currently the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. “I went to college and struggled. I failed college algebra three times. I didn’t believe in myself, and I prepared to drop out.”

But when she went to faculty advisers, they encouraged her to believe in herself and hold herself accountable. Though she still switched her major a few times, the sense of belonging she developed showed her what college can do for struggling people.

In the years that followed, Fujii earned degrees in communications and counseling at the University of Nevada and a Ph.D in leadership and policy studies from Arizona State. But it was a career in community colleges where she found her calling.

“I fell in love with the social justice mission of community college,” she said. “We take all students, regardless of background. We don’t just take them — we want them. We don’t expect you to be perfect. We’re here because we believe in the potential of those who come through the door.”

Fujii said she has thrived in academic affairs, though she is excited to shift her focus from internal college workings to greater collaboration with a larger community.

“How do we meet the need in our area?” said Fujii, who already refers to ACC as “our” campus. “I’m looking forward to finding out what’s possible in terms of internships and scholarships.”

She was one of four finalists for the ACC presidency, the others being Dr. Marta Cronin, the president of Columbia Gorge Community College, Dr. Michael Gavin, the vice president of learning at Anne Arundel Community College and Dr. Michael Laliberte, the president of the State University of New York at Delhi.

Fujii was selected after a six-month nationwide search led by a nine-member advisory committee. She was also recently named one of three finalists for the presidency of the Community College of Aurora this spring.

ACC’s current president, Dr. Diana Doyle, plans to step down this summer after 11 years leading the institution.

There’s already a lot to love about the ACC system, Fujii said, praising the Automotive Technology Center at the Littleton campus, the Sturm Collaboration Campus in Castle Rock, and the growing Parker campus.

Fujii doesn’t have specific plans for her new role at ACC just yet, saying it’s not the duty of a new president to upend things.

“I wouldn’t have applied if I didn’t believe in the college’s mission and vision,” she said.

Still, she said, it’s clear that she will be tasked with guiding the school into the future as the COVID crisis ebbs.

“COVID has illuminated inequities among our most vulnerable populations,” she said. “This is a calling more than ever for community colleges to step in and lead the courageous work of delivering education that will yield good outcomes for students in terms of wages and opportunities. We’ve got to close those equity gaps.”

Despite the COVID crisis, ACC saw an increase in enrollment in fall 2020, according to school figures. The ACC system counted 2,594 full-time equivalent students in fall 2020, in keeping with a steady increase in recent years. The number fell slightly to 2,540 in the spring semester.

Doyle, the current president, said she is proud of how ACC handled the COVID crisis — and sees lessons for the future.

The school kept its childcare center open through the pandemic, providing a lifeline to students, she said, and provided food assistance and grocery vouchers to students who lost jobs. The school was able to provide laptops and iPads to students who couldn’t afford them.

But the big lesson was finding out just how much educational material could be delivered online, easing the burden on students to travel to campus.

“We’d love to keep providing more delivery methods for classes,” Doyle said. “We’ve had a robust online program for a while, but this really increased our flexibility.”

Doyle listed the ACC system’s numerous successes during her tenure, including the Sturm campus, new science labs at the Parker campus, the development of three bachelor’s degree programs, the founding of a veterans’ service center, and an increase in the number of students of color.

Doyle said she’s “looking for new adventures” after she leaves ACC, such as traveling or working as a consultant. “I’m not ready for the rocking chair yet,” she said.

Doyle said the hardest part about leaving will be bidding farewell to her talented colleagues.

“Some of the best professionals I’ve worked with in 43 years in higher education are here at ACC,” she said. “I want to thank them all for making me a better president.”

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