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A year in review: Dr. Rolita Flores Ezeonu reflects on her time participating in the 2022-2023 Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship program

By Philip Denman, May 26, 2023

As Dr. Rolita Flores Ezeonu reflects on her time participating in the 2022-2023 Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship program, she feels both strengthened and validated in her belief that bringing one’s whole self and identity is key to being a successful leader at any organization.

The eldest child of two Filipino immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands and a first-generation college student, Ezeonu has felt at multiple times in her career working in predominantly white institutions that strengths in her cultural identity and her way of leading were overshadowed.

“In these instances, these leadership experiences felt like my essence was being put to the side.”

But according to Ezeonu, one’s culture, experiences and values shape their style of leadership and should be celebrated rather than only focusing on impersonal conformity.

“There are a lot of leadership trainings out there, but I felt so validated being surrounded by so many other Aspen Rising Presidential leaders in higher ed that were focused on transformational action in higher education especially at the community college,” Ezeonu said. “When people think of leadership, they often think of specific “dominant culture” ways of leading, but working with my colleagues and our mentors highlighted just how many ways you can use your authentic leadership towards social justice as long as you’re true to yourself.”

It is that sense of self the Ezeonu has leaned into since joining Green River College as the Vice President of Instruction in 2018 as GRC’s first executive of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. The importance and responsibility of such representation is not lost on Ezeonu. According to the Aspen Institute, of the sitting community and technical college presidents, AAPIs are represented at 15% nationwide. Currently, the AAPI Aspen Rising Presidents Fellows total 6%.

“Your personal story is the essence of who you are and shapes your leadership style, being consistent in action and in words, and being true to yourself, will let others form a collage of who you are, what you stand for, and whether or not you’re committed,” Ezeonu said. “I’m committed to the transformational work we’re doing at Green River College and in south-east King County and want to continue the work of transforming student success, especially amongst our Black, Indigenous, students of color.”

The Rising Presidents Fellowship is awarded by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. that aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes.

Ezeonu was one of 31 other Aspen Rising Presidents Fellows who embarked on the 10-month fellowship, which began in July 2022. Delivered in collaboration with partners like the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative, Ezeonu and the other Fellows were mentored by community college leaders who have had outstanding results for their students, learn from national experts about ways to use data to make their students more successful, and learn how to create strong external partnerships with K-12 schools, four-year colleges, and employers in their community.

Rising Presidents Fellows aspire to enter a college presidency within five years of completing the fellowship. As fellows, they join a network of over 300 forward-thinking peers—155 of whom are sitting college presidents—who are applying grounded and innovative strategies to meet student success challenges in their colleges.

The Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship is made possible by the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, College Futures Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase.

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GRC shifts to summer hour operations June 26

June 21, 2023

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The general hours of business operations will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, with the campus closed to the public on Fridays. Regular hours will resume the week of Monday, Sept. 4.