CALAIS, Maine — It’s time.
Joyce Hedlund said her recent decision to retire after a long career in higher education came not so much as an epiphany but as a result of seeing what a great time her husband, Wesley, has been having since he retired 18 months ago after 41 years as a biology teacher at Bangor High School.
Now the president of Washington County Community College in Calais, Hedlund will step down on June 30 after a 43-year career in education that includes 25 years in Maine’s community college system. Prior to taking the top job in Calais in 2010, Hedlund was president of Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor for 16 years.
“I think over the years I’ve worked in just about every office on a community college campus, except maintenance,” she said. “And then, when I became a community college president, I began overseeing that, too.”
Unlike many students who head off to four-year colleges and universities wondering what career path they should pursue, Hedlund said most community college students arrive on day one with a career direction in mind.
“Community college students come in the door with a career focus, a sense of direction and a sense of purpose,” she said. “Whether they want to be a welder or a nurse, our job is to help them achieve that goal, rather than helping students figure out where they’re headed. It’s a magical environment.”
The community college approach to postsecondary education, she says, combines a strenuous general education requirement with technical and career skills development.
“It’s a total package,” Hedlund said. “It’s teaching and learning in the way most people learn best, learning through application. The core of our mission is career education. It’s clear that, in order to get a job in Maine, you need some sort of postsecondary education. Community colleges are often the source of the education, and we are working hard to provide Maine with an intelligent work force. The better educated the work force, the better the economy.”
Hedlund will soon turn 65, and she seems eager to begin enjoying retirement as much as her husband seems to be, she said. “I love this school, and I really understand the concept of student success and what it takes to make students successful, but I don’t want to work forever,” she said. “It’s time. I’m looking forward to getting a small camper and traveling throughout the U.S. to enjoy natural environments like wildlife refuges and national parks. I’ve worked with watercolors, off and on, and now my husband and I are both taking a drawing class. So, we’ll travel and draw.”
A national search is now under way for Hedlund’s successor. The next president of Washington County Community College will step onto a campus with 500 students and a 21-member faculty. The average age of students in Calais is 26, with about 30 percent living on campus in apartment-style housing. Students come from throughout Maine, not just Washington County, including eight students from Canada. Enrollment has been growing slowly, Hedlund said, with a target of reaching enrollment of 700 students over the next five years through program development.
Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons said he realizes Hedlund’s successor will have a tough act to follow.
“She is an advocate of students and someone who believes in the power and potential of the community colleges,” he said. “We have been blessed with her leadership at both Eastern Maine Community College and Washington County Community College as president. What makes Joyce so special is that she places students at the heart of every decision she makes.”