By DAVID J. DEL GRANDE
New Pima Community College Provost Erica C. Holmes uses classroom teaching to stay in touch with students and faculty.
“As an administrator, I thought it was very important to stay connected with the classroom,” Holmes said. “Then I have real-time experience of what my students are going through, and what the faculty that I supervise are going through.”
If she teaches, grades assignments and submits grades using the same platform her faculty does, Holmes said she remains connected to the institution’s pulse.
“It’s really helpful because you need to know what your faculty are experiencing,” she said.
Holmes was a first-generation college student from South Hill, Va., a small, predominantly agricultural community.
Her journey from Southside Virginia Community College eventually led to a doctorate in education leadership from the University of Sarasota-Argosy in Florida.
She began her career 20 years ago as a financial aid officer at Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va.
Her most recent job was vice president of academic and student affairs at Kennedy-King College, one of seven colleges in the City Colleges of Chicago system.
Holmes joined PCC on July 1 as provost and executive vice chancellor for academic and student services, the No. 2 position in the college.
While she plans to teach a class at Pima sometime in the future, her current priority is helping the college prepare for a Sept. 15-17 visit from the Higher Learning Commission.
The visiting representatives will determine whether Pima is complying with HLC standards.
Their findings will determine whether the college can be released from probation. (See related stories above and on Pages 8 and 9.)
Holmes said her comprehensive work with HLC reaffirmation standards will assist Pima during this transitional period.
“I have worked in the accreditation process now with four different institutions,” she said. “So absolutely, yes I think those skills will be helpful as we move through the site visit, and look to get the probationary status removed.”
Dolores Durán-Cerda has been the senior assistant to Pima’s provost office since January 2013. Her assignment went from acting to permanent in April 2013, the same month the HLC placed Pima on probation.
She subsequently joined a project management team formed to remove Pima’s accreditation sanctions, and said Holmes’ background in HLC peer-reviewing was an invaluable asset.
“She jumped in right away with her experience and identified areas that we needed to strengthen in the self-study,” Durán-Cerda said. “That was phenomenal.”
Holmes has been an excellent fit for Pima’s provost position, Durán-Cerda added.
“Even though we have had wonderful interim and acting provosts, it’s good to know that this person is going to stay,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with her.”
For now, Holmes is focusing on Pima’s transition past its probationary period, and any specific needs the college’s multiple campuses require of her office.
One improvement students can expect is the quality of Pima’s online education, she said.
She has joined a Pima task force that is investigating ways to offer better Web courses for students interested both in single classes and in earning credits for degree completion.
Holmes is not shy about embracing her new community as her dance-card rapidly fills.
On Aug. 22, she served as emcee for a day-long employee “All College Day.” The get-together was the first opportunity many employees had to meet the new provost.
Durán-Cerda said Holmes commands a natural stage presence that raised spirit levels.
“She connected to the audience right away, set the tone for the event but also for the school year,” Durán-Cerda said.
Throughout the fall semester, Holmes will visit each PCC campus for drop-in office hours.
She said she’s intent on developing relationships with students and finding ways to help improve upon their success.
“Education is happening out on the campuses, so that’s where we need to be,” she said. “It’s important to stay connected with students, because it really is about the student experience. That’s why we’re here.”