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Chesapeake President Looks Back on Seven Years

Thursday, October 14, 2004


 

After seven years as Chesapeake College’s president, Stuart M. Bounds says he’s is still learning as much about himself as he is about his job.

Much has changed at Chesapeake since the summer of 1997, when the Board of Trustees chose Dr. Bounds to replace retiring president John Kotula. The most obvious change is physical, with two new buildings – the Learning Resource Center and Higher Education Center -- added to the Wye Mills Campus. The buildings, along with the Todd Performing Arts Center, have altered the Wye Mills landscape as well as improved services for Chesapeake College students.

However, Dr. Bounds said the most significant changes in the last seven years have been in the student population and in himself.

"I would describe what we’ve seen on campus as a sea change," said Dr. Bounds. "We’ve had a surge in our full-time student enrollment and that has reshaped the college in so many ways.

"Seven years ago we definitely had a part-time atmosphere here on campus with students driving in for classes and spending the minimum amount of time here. Now we see more students here during the day and they’re not just here during their classes," explained Dr. Bounds. "They spend time in the library or they socialize with their friends here. That increase has put increased demands on services, but has had a positive impact on the atmosphere. The students are more involved in the college community now. "

Prior to his appointment, Dr. Bounds had spent his entire career in higher education and had always worked for a president.

"I’d had a lot of time to observe presidents at work. Once I found out I would be president of Chesapeake, I had long conversations with other Maryland presidents and some outside the state. So, I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I knew exactly how the job was done," Dr. Bounds said.

Some of the responsibilities were exactly what he had expected. Monitoring the academic quality, maintaining strong ties with government officials, and keeping the budget in check were all part of the job description. What he didn’t expect was the emotional factor.

"I didn’t fully appreciate the emotional investments presidents make in their institutions. I couldn’t have understood it until I became a president myself," Dr. Bounds said. "During my first six months in office I would drive home absolutely exhausted. Yes, I was putting in long hours, but that wasn’t the reason. I was so preoccupied with the college, the students and the employees that it was overwhelming me. Everything I did or said was a reflection on the college and that’s an enormous responsibility."

After seven years, though, Dr. Bounds said that he’s learned to live with his emotional investment. But he is still hands on.

He’s visible on campus and in the community. On any given day, he shuttles between welcoming participants in a seminar to testifying on legislation in Annapolis to crunching numbers with his administrators to chatting with students over lunch in the library.

"Dr. Bounds keeps Chesapeake College at the forefront. That helps citizens of our Mid-Shore region, but it also helps Maryland’s entire community college system," said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37th. "He understands the students and his community, and he does a wonderful job of keeping local and state officials aware of those needs. He’s also well aware of the challenges we face as legislators and that has helped him build strong relationships on behalf of Chesapeake."

Dr. Bounds earned high praise from someone who, until July, was one of his bosses.

"Stuart Bounds is such a strong representative of the college out in the community," said former Trustee Elizabeth Draper-Brice. "He is responsible for much of the growth and success at Chesapeake. He is very active in the community, yet he manages to keep his finger on the pulse of the college. Many are working for a common goal, but Stuart is providing the leadership to make this success possible."

Such high praise – while flattering - can pose a challenge, Dr. Bounds said. With the job of college president comes a certain amount of respect and authority. The president said he tries to remember that his deeds and words carry weight because of his position.

"The temptation to be self-important is there because people show you so much deference. That sort of respect comes with an office. It has very little to do with the person in that office," he said. "I’ve seen people retire as college presidents who have a difficult time transitioning away from all that comes with the position. I try to remember that, ultimately, you’re only left with the personal relationships you’ve forged."

Dr. Bounds said he keeps that in mind as he goes about his duties as a community college president.

A few years ago, Dr. Bounds attended a national workshop for new college presidents. Workshop participants were asked to write letters to themselves about their goals as presidents. The workshop leaders told the new presidents to save their letters and read them after they had been in their positions for a few years. Dr, Bounds dug out his letter last year and noted he had promised himself to stay connected to the classroom.

So, this past spring he signed on to teach a political science course at Chesapeake’s Cambridge Center. He found that though course content has not changed much over the years, the classrooms and the students have changed significantly.

"I was amazed by the impact of the Internet on the classroom. When I first started teaching years ago, instructors worried constantly about providing enough material for students beyond the textbook. We were always searching for information that could be used as hand-outs," Dr. Bounds said. "It’s just the opposite now with the Internet. We have access to so much information now that the challenge is to choose what to pass along to students. It’s wonderful to have so much information available to us.

"Most of the students in my class were in the traditional college student age group. I had a chance to see how important communication is in their daily lives. They seem to be communicating with other people 24 hours a day," said Dr. Bounds. "With cell phones and e-mail they are never out-of-touch. That’s so different from my generation. They don’t see being available for constant communication as an intrusion. It’s part of their daily lives."

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