Face to Face: an interview with Dr. Carole M. Berotte Joseph
Quick! To what three colleges is Wellesley home? Wellesley College, Babson College and…not everyone gets the third. Our writer sits down with Dr. Carole M. Berotte Joseph, now entering her fourth year as President of Wellesley’s “third college,” MassBay Community College.
Wellesley Weston Magazine: Hi Carole, great to meet you. Your office is beautiful and quite baronial. But it’s also accessible; it doesn’t have that ‘ivory tower’ feel. Can you tell me about it?
Carole Berotte Joseph: The state bought this property (over seventy acres) from the Sisters of Charity for the college in 1973. [The building originally housed two Catholic schools for girls: the Academy of the Assumption, and Elizabeth Seton High School.] This particular space was the Mother Superior’s office. The Sisters of Charity have a retirement home right across the street. Recently we’ve reconnected, and we’re hoping to collaborate on some projects with them.
WWM: The college campus is certainly big, and it’s right here in town. So then, why is MassBay like the elephant in the living room…such a well-kept secret?
CBJ: Well, I think that in the past, the college just wasn’t as connected with the town as we are now. We’re encouraging local residents to come in and attend classes, especially the non-credit courses and programs in the evenings and on weekends. We’re offering a number of classes for seniors, like classes in computer use and e-mail for example, and Introductions to Arabic, Spanish, and French. We have massage workshops and jazz dance classes, and we’ve hired our first full-time art instructor! We’re trying to let the community know that we’re an exciting resource and that they’re entirely welcome here, and we’d like to be good neighbors.
WWM: Since it’s a commuter school that only a small number of students from Wellesley and Weston might attend, does MassBay, which is a state institution, serve the communities of Wellesley and Weston in other ways?
CBJ: Well, for one thing, most people don’t realize that we’re home to the Wellesley Symphony, the Newton Country Players, and even the “All about Us” Children’s Theater, which performs and practices here. We offer to the public a number of opportunities for cultural enrichment. Also, we have a special events office available to those who want to host events or meetings on our campus. There’s even a lovely art gallery that’s open to the public on the first floor of this building. We’re hoping to collaborate in the future with Babson and Wellesley Colleges on a variety of events and to establish a speaker series, to which the public will be invited. It’s a great time here at the college. We’re doing a lot of outreach and there are many challenges and opportunities. It is a defining moment in the college's history.
WWM: What’s your student demographic? We know that because it’s a day school with no housing, MassBay isn’t on the college list of many seniors from these suburbs.
CBJ: In general, community college students tend to be the first students in the family to attend college. Clearly, that’s not the case for most of the students who come from households in Weston and Wellesley. And yes, we tend to be a resource for students who commute; many are working and attending school at the same time. Our demographic is diverse: about half of our students come to us directly from high school, and the other half are returning adults (those who are changing careers or returning to complete a degree).
Most of our students come from the Metrowest area and fifteen percent come from Boston. We have over 150 international students, too. About a third of our students go on to four-year schools. The other two-thirds go directly into the workforce, prepared by our programs – like Nursing, Early Childhood Education, Medical Technology, and Automotive Tech – for a variety of positions.
We also have a state grant, funded by the legislature, for a transitional program that enables us to prepare students with variety of disabilities for college. They come to us directly from high school and take introductory courses. After they finish the transitional program, those who can continue with us, do.
WWM: Does MassBay Community College have any students from Wellesley or Weston?
CBJ: Yes, definitely. We’re reaching out to the local high schools now because we really are a good fit for those kids who just aren’t ready to go away and live independently, or who aren’t poised academically or otherwise to participate in a full baccalaureate program. We give them a chance to try out college life, while still being close to home. We’ve had graduates go on to Smith, Harvard, UC Berkeley, NYU…and one of our alums recently got a Ph.D from Yale! Most of the students who complete our liberal arts program continue their educations at Framingham State, UMass Boston and Amherst, and Northeastern.
WWM: So many residents in Wellesley and Weston are able to live here precisely because they’ve been highly successful in the professional and business worlds. Is there a connection between these individuals – as resources, perhaps – and the college?
CBJ: We have an award-winning biotechnology program. Last year alone, two of our biotech students won prestigious Barry Goldwater awards, and they were competing with students from places like Harvard, MIT, and Tufts! We were the only community college in the nation to have won last year. So we have a lot to offer the business community. We have recently connected with the local Rotary to pair executives with our students in a mentoring program. We want to expand our work-study offerings, making them similar to what’s offered through Northeastern University’s co-op program, so that our students can do more hands-on learning. We also want to integrate globalization into our curriculum, offering opportunities for our students to study or do “service learning” (volunteering) for credit while they travel.
Businesses can take advantage of our proximity to them and our faculty’s expertise through our workplace and technology development program. That is, we design and set up specialized trainings for companies either at their sites, or at ours. We can train groups of employees in accounting or in using certain kinds of software, for example. Or we might do a human resources training module. Whatever the course, we completely customize it for each employer’s needs. So yes, I would say that we have strong ties to the business community, and we’d like to make them even stronger. We hope that folks will reach out to us if their companies can use interns.
WWM: It’s clear from all the press lately that MassBay Community College is in the throes of change. What are you doing that’s different from what your predecessors have done?
CBJ: When I arrived, the board asked me to review everything. Changes needed to be made at the college. Among other things, we needed a new strategic plan, and mechanisms for assessment and accountability to be put into place. I’m committed to the belief in the potential of each human being. I always challenge people to do their best. So I came to collaborate with the faculty and staff, not to make the changes in a vacuum. But – some people don’t like change. They find it difficult, and they feel the need to resist it. I understand it: they’re comfortable, and I’m asking them to work harder and to do more. Some resistance is normal. I’m a humanitarian, and I can understand that. But at the same time, I’m a no-nonsense person with high standards. And instead of discussing issues constructively, the most resistant folks fought me, and then called their contacts at the Globe. My job would have been so easy if I had just maintained the status quo.
There are problems that have come to light going back many years, and we’re addressing them, one by one. We want to keep the good reputation that we have; my vision is that we go even further, and become a premier community college. We have never lost our approval status for the nursing program. In fact, we’ve not only met the requirement, set by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing, to hire more staff, but we have exceeded that requirement so we’re in full compliance. We want to continue to attract and retain top-notch faculty members. We compete with other colleges and hospitals for nursing staff members, which makes recruiting them more difficult – and expensive — than it’s ever been. We’re recruiting new board members for the MassBay Community College Foundation (the fundraising arm of the college), and reviving all of our fundraising efforts. I’ve hired a Director of Development who will help us launch a capital campaign. We’re leasing space in Framingham and Ashland now, and we’re looking for additional permanent space in the Metrowest area.
WWM: You’re a member of several boards, and you seem always to be at an event, or a meeting. You have a really full calendar! How do you have time for family and friends?
CBJ: It’s a constant challenge. Thank goodness I’m not the parent of young children! My husband Andre is supportive, and every day I assess how I’m going to do the balancing act. I once heard another college president say that you have to “take control of your calendar.” I’m not always successful at it. I have to do better in that area. This is an all-consuming job, but I love it. I know I can have an impact, and that we’re moving in the right direction. You cannot become a premier institution if you are satisfied with being ‘okay.’ You will instead remain stagnant.
WWM: I see some photos here. How about the rest of your family? Where are they?
CBJ: We have two daughters that we’re very proud of; they’re young professional women. Marjorie, the oldest, completed her studies in Political Science at Penn State and is now an actress in California. Claudine majored in International Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She works for a company in Manhattan that manages musical artists, and she is currently managing LL Cool J. We are very proud of our daughters not just because of their accomplishments, but also because of the social causes that they embrace.
WWM: You’ve had an amazing career trajectory…from Professor to Assistant Dean, to President…you’ve arrived at a very high place. What inspired you to make education such a priority in your life and in the lives of others? Did your commitment to education come from family values, or someplace else?
CBJ: Yes, my commitment to education came from my family. My father was a successful business person and owned a furniture factory. He was also a skilled craftsman, a teacher, and a school principal in Haiti. Later, he taught in the New York City schools. My mother was a stay-at-home mom while we were growing up, and after the last one of us had gone to high school, she went back to work full-time as a nurse. All four of my siblings and I were expected to go to college. In fact, we all went to Catholic high schools, except for one sister who went to the High School of Music and Art in New York. We all attended public colleges, except my youngest sister, who attended Cornell. My family has been education-centered for generations, so we had lots of role models.
WWM: I’m always startled to find that sexism still exists, even at the top, within so many institutions and disciplines. Do you think it’s a factor in higher education, even now?
CBJ: Absolutely yes. Women are expected to be ‘nice’ and ‘soft.’ If I were that way, I couldn’t implement change. I’m the first woman president here, and I’m a minority. It’s possible that some of that plays into various interactions. I’ve always been about making a difference, though. I'm proud to be an agent of change.
WWM: Thanks so much for talking with me, Carole. I know how incredibly busy you are, and how you’re always on the go. Before leaving, I do want to ask what you’re reading now, and what else you do in your spare time (I know you don’t have much of that).
CBJ: I like to read, knit and crochet, and play the piano. I just completed Coyotes by Ted Conover. The entire campus has been reading it as part of our “One Book” project this year. I am now reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and Brother, I’m Dying, a true and very powerful story by my good friend [the Haitian novelist] Edwidge Danticat. Before that, I read An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore.
WWM: Thanks again. See you at the World of Wellesley (WOW) festival!