Building Leaders

Building LeadersAnthony Tricoli, Georgia Perimeter Community College President

From Would-Be Brick Layer to College President

Like many teenagers, Anthony Tricoli had no idea in high school what he wanted to be when he grew up. He managed to hover around a 2.4 GPA, just high enough to stay eligible for the swim and water polo teams, but not high enough to be accepted into a decent four-year university. “Much later in life, after studying education and learning styles, I figured out that I didn’t flourish in high school because my learning style was so different than the accepted teaching style of that time,” Tricoli said.

His mother, a seamstress, and father, a shoemaker, held steady jobs as manual laborers at Hughes Aircraft in Orange County, California, but their combined annual income was only about $24,000. “We were dirt poor,” Tricoli remembered. “Even if I had made better grades, there was no way we could afford college. I didn’t even apply.”

Tricoli sought advice from his high school academic counselor, who ran a series of assessment tests on him. The counselor told Tricoli that the results of the tests revealed that he was “not college material.” She told him he would be better off pursuing a trade, and the most fitting job for him, according to the assessment, would be that of a brick layer.

The pursuit of education

Tricoli enrolled in his local community college—Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California. “It was affordable and close to home,” Tricoli said, “and they accepted me, average grades and all.”

But while he loved college life, Tricoli says he was once again discouraged by poor academic advising. “My counselor gave me terrible advice on what classes I needed in order to transfer.” Instead, Tricoli made it his mission to figure it out on his own. “I read the course catalog cover to cover,” he said. Once he figured out the system, he began “advising” his swim and water polo teammates on which classes they should take as well.

Anthony Tricoli

“One of my buddies told me I was pretty good at it,” Tricoli said. “And that’s when it dawned on me: this is what I want to do with my life—help students like me to succeed.” He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Whittier College and a master’s degree in education and counseling from the University of Redlands. Tricoli’s first job out of grad school—at just 23 years old—was serving as an adjunct professor at Coastline Community College in Orange County. During this same time, he also took a job as director of training and development for Hughes Aircraft.

“The best career advice I ever got was from Fred Owens [then dean of students at Golden West College, who later served on Tricoli's dissertation committee]. He told me that the best way to become valuable as a community college administrator was to gain real-world business and industry experience,” said Tricoli. This prompted him to pursue the job at Hughes.

Pepperdine: a perfect fit.

It was during his tenure at Hughes that Tricoli pursued a doctoral degree. After much research on various Ed.D. programs, he decided on Pepperdine. “I had an interview with Professor B. Lamar Johnson (known to many as ‘the father of community college’),” Tricoli remembered. “He was wonderful. After talking with him, I became so excited about the program—I couldn’t wait to get started.”

Because Tricoli’s passion was for the community college setting, Pepperdine’s Ed.D. in Organi-zational Leadership was a perfect fit. The program functions within a cohort paradigm which groups students who have common career goals. According to Farzin Madjidi, program director and professor of leadership, the program strives to “distinguish leadership from boss-ship,” he said. “We provide a learning environment where our students are taught how to promote empower-ment; where everyone within the organization is empowered to lead using their own unique skill sets and intellectual faculties.”

“I had an excellent experience at Pepperdine,” Tricoli said. “The faculty were wonderful—both extremely knowledgeable and caring.”

Post-Pepperdine, Tricoli spent several years serving in various roles within the ranks of community college administration, first at Monterey Peninsula College, then at San Joaquin Delta College, and later at Oxnard College. Then in 2002, the would-be brick layer who began his own higher education at a community college became president of West Hills Community College in Coalinga, California.

“It is so rewarding to know that we are giving people the opportunity to improve their lives,” Tricoli said of the unique role that community colleges play in education. “We are able to offer students—students like I was once who don’t even know yet that they have great potential—the opportunity to succeed in life.”

Under Tricoli’s leadership at West Hills College, the institution earned national recognition from the MetLife Foundation as the most outstanding small community college in the nation. Addition-ally in 2005, Campus Compact awarded the college five national Best Practice Awards.

SoCal native lays new roots in Georgia.

After four groundbreaking years at West Hills, Tricoli left his post and his native California to become president of Georgia Perimeter College, the largest associate degree-granting institution within the University System of Georgia. And though he’s been at his newest job less than a year, he has already made quite an impact.

“In the short time he has served as president, Dr. Tricoli has been able to inspire and mobilize the college community as one institution,” said Ron Carruth, executive vice president for financial and administrative services. “President Tricoli has accomplished this with an open and effective leadership style. He has gained the confidence of faculty, staff, and students. There is a new level of energy under his leadership.”

Tricoli concluded: “Community college turned me on to education like nothing before. It was like a light switch for me. And that’s what I want to do—flip that switch for a whole new generation of students.”

Audrey Levy, Glendale Community College President

Audrey Levy

Surpassing Family Dreams

In many ways, Audrey Levy’s story begins much like Anthony Tricoli’s She was raised in a small town in Michigan by parents who only had middle school educations. As a teenager, Levy dreamed of becoming a flight attendant. Her father, an assembly line worker in an automobile manufacturing plant, dreamed a much bigger dream for his daughter. “They wanted more for me,” Levy recalled. “It was my family who steered me toward education.”

After graduating from high school, Levy went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in public speech from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Michigan. She spent the next 20 years in K-12 education, serving as a teacher, counselor, and administrator, first in Detroit, Michigan, and later in Inglewood, California.

During her tenure in Inglewood, Levy, who proudly considers herself a lifelong student, earned two more master’s degrees—one in educational psychology from California State University, Long Beach, and the other in administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills. (She also later earned a fourth master’s in divinity from Holmes Institute.) “I love a productive environment,” Levy said. “I enjoy being a student because I like to stretch myself; to become more than I am.”

Making good on a New Year’s resolution.

Levy attributes her move to the community college level to the encouragement of friends and colleagues. “My friends saw something more in me. They knew I was ready to go beyond a K-12 environment before I knew it myself.”

In 1989, Levy made a New Year’s resolution that she would find a job in a community college by year’s end. “I decided that I wouldn’t go to sleep at night until I had done one thing that day to move myself toward a community college position,” she recalled. “It could have been working on my resume or visiting a college campus—I did this seven days a week for the next three months.”At the end of three months, she secured a part-time position as a volunteer counselor at Santa Monica College and West Los Angeles College.

“Within a few weeks, people forgot that I was a volunteer. They were giving me assignments as if I were a regular employee.” The following fall, she was offered a full-time job at Los Angeles Valley College and a part-time job at Santa Monica College. “I ended up with a job and half.”

Pepperdine launches new career for a career-student.

Following her move from K-12 to community colleges, Levy once again went back to school, only this time it was at the doctoral level. Originally she had applied and been accepted into GSEP’s doctoral psychology program. “At that point I was still focused on a career in student counseling,” Levy recalled. “But after learning more about the organizational leadership Ed.D. program, it felt like a better fit for me—especially being able to take classes at night and gearing my course work specifically on community college issues.”

“I am a big fan of this program and have tried to duplicate it at every college I have worked,” Levy continued. “The cohort structure was wonderful. You develop close relationships with fellow students. It was a very nurturing environment. Instead of competing with each other, we all counted on each other for support.”

Levy says she attributes much of her success within community college administration to her Pepperdine education. “The program taught me how to work as part of a team; how to step out of the norm and think outside the box,” she said. “I believe that I moved up faster than I would have otherwise. I went from a part-time counselor to a college president in just 10 years, due in great part to what I took away from the program.”

Seizing an opportunity.

Post-Pepperdine, Levy served as the Title III director at Brookhaven College in Dallas, Texas, before becoming vice president of student services and later executive vice president at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, California. In 1998, she was named provost of the Collier Campus in the Edison Community College District in Naples, Florida. “I never thought I’d end up where I am,” Levy said. “But you know, the doors kept opening, and I kept on walking through them.”

In 2001, she became president of Los Angeles Southwest College, and held that post for five years before becoming president of Glendale Community College in July 2006 (making her the first woman to serve in the position in the 78-year history of the institution). “It sounds much more prestigious than the actual role,” Levy said of her presidential title. “Actually, it’s often a very humbling job. I see my central task is to be the cheerleader for the staff, the students, and the institution. This I learned from Pepperdine.”

Glendale Community College has a college-credit enrollment of about 15,000 day and evening students. Approximately 10,000 others are reached through the adult education program, specialized job training programs, and contract instruction administered by the school’s Professional Development Center.

“Audrey is a successful leader and excellent college president because she has the greatest sense of balance and priority of anyone I have ever worked with,” said Darroch “Rocky” Young, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community Colleges. “She knows when it is time to step out and be a commanding leader, but she also knows when it is appropriate to be a servant leader.”

When it comes to what Levy finds most rewarding about her job, it’s the students, hands down, she says. “They’re not here for any other agenda than to get an education,” she observed. “These students are the ones who have been told they can’t do it; or they have little academic background to speak of; or perhaps didn’t get it right in high school. I love community college because individuals get that second or third or fourth chance to get it right.”

Linda Thor, Rio Salado Community College President

Linda Thor

Setting Presidential Records

Linda Thor, president of Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona, since 1990, shares. Tricoli and Levy’s irrevocable devotion for community colleges.

From her home in Phoenix, Arizona, on the tail end of a two-month mini sabbatical, Thor explained that the roots of her career success lead all the way back to George Pepperdine College in the late 1960s, where she was an undergraduate journalism student. Her first job upon graduation was director of public information for Pepperdine’s then School of Continuing Education, which she says is where she got her first enticing taste of a career in higher education.

A similar position at the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) caught her attention and she went for it, serving as a public information officer for one year before being promoted to director of communication services. “It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” Thor announced modestly. By this time, however, she had discovered her passion for community colleges. “Community college is the people’s college—an open-door institution serving anyone and everyone who wants it.”

With this new-found career fervor, she yearned for a higher level of leadership. “I realized that I needed to go beyond a bachelor’s degree if I wanted to succeed in higher education,” said Thor. This prompted her to earn a master’s degree in public administration from California State University, Los Angeles.

Over the course of the next decade, Thor was promoted three more times, which brought her to the upper echelon of LACCD administration. “I remember thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?'”

Pepperdine: a stepping stone.

She sought the advice of LACCD’s then chancellor Leslie Koltai, who was a strong supporter of Pepperdine’s education doctoral programs. “He knew they offered an Ed.D. specifically geared for community college administration,” Thor recalled. “He told me if I wanted to be a community college president, Pepperdine was a great place to start.”

Thor spent the next four years attending Pepperdine’s doctoral courses on nights and weekends as she maintained her full-time job with LACCD. “The best part about Pepperdine’s program was that I was able to focus my papers and my research on very real issues that I was facing in my career,” she said. “Even my disserta-tion was directly related to my responsibilities at that time.”

Timing couldn’t have been more perfect once again for Thor. Just as she put the finishing touches on her dissertation, the president of LACCD’s West Los Angeles College stepped down, leaving the door wide open for Thor to step into the role.

She served as acting president for one year before being officially inaugurated as president at just 36 years old, making her one of the youngest college presidents in history. (She also has the distinction of being the only college president to have given birth while in office, as well as one of the longest serving presidents in community college history at 21 years.)

“Oly Tegner [then dean of GSEP] spoke at my inauguration ceremony,” Thor recalled. “I greatly appreciated his support. That’s the best part about Pepperdine—it’s so much more than just an excellent education. You become part of the family. I attribute so much of my career to Pepperdine.”

A college of the future.

After four years as president of West Los Angeles College, Thor became president of Rio Salado College in 1990. Even after 17 years at the helm, she still finds her job extremely rewarding. “It’s wonderful to see that the decisions I make in terms of programs and services have a direct impact on the community and on individual lives.”

Rio Salado is a “college without walls” that specializes in serving working adults through distance learning, customized degrees with corporations and government, and accelerated high school programs.” Our goal is to ‘astonish our customers,'” Thor explained. “We treat our students as customers and make it our mission to serve them beyond their expectations.”

Thor says she developed many of her philosophies on specialized student services and class flexibility from her own experience as a student. “When I was in grad school, it was a major balancing act,” she said. “I had a toddler at home and was trying to be a good wife and mother all the while maintaining a full-time job and keeping up with my studies.”

A typical student at Rio Salado is a 30-something working (and often single) mom. Thor says because of her own experience, she understands the needs of her own student population and works hard to implement programs that cater specifically to such a population. “I vowed to make it easier for people who are trying to achieve their educational goals while juggling very full lives,” she said. “I like to think of our college as the college of the future.”

Some such innovations include having online classes that begin every two weeks, rather than only at the beginning of each semester; classes are never cancelled or closed due to enrollment limitations; and students can learn at their own pace, as fast or as slow as fits their lifestyles.

“From her first day as president of Rio Salado College, Linda Thor has been relentless in her drive to make education accessible to those populations who otherwise could not participate in this aspect of the American dream,” said Karen Mills, vice president of teaching and learning at Rio Salado. “Her leadership style is inclusive with a focus on service to others—and the college’s amazing enrollment growth is proof her leadership strategy has been, and continues to be, right on the mark.”

Rio Salado College has seen double-digit growth in terms of student population under Thor’s leadership. The college currently serves 48,800 credit and another 12,000 non-credit students annually and enjoys an 85 percent retention rate of online students, which is far higher than the national average. “My favorite time of the year is graduation time,” Thor concluded. “It’s when I get see the graduates and their families. They have such a sense of accomplishment—and that’s what it’s all about.”

Thomas Fallo, El Camino Community College President

Thomas Fallo

Natural Leadership

At an early age, it became apparent to Tom Fallo’s parents and teachers that he exuded natural leadership ability. He was the kid on the playground whom others followed, the kid who put 100 percent into everything he tried.

Fallo excelled in school and always believed he would end up in a career where he would be able to utilize his leadership skills, but he wasn’t exactly sure what line of work might suit him best. He says he found his way to a lifelong career in community colleges “serendipitously.”

After completing both an undergraduate degree in economics and an MBA from UCLA, Fallo opted to travel in Europe before pounding the pavement for a job. Upon returning from his travels, he found his way to the local employment office, where he weighed his options.

A test worth taking.

A job posting for a staff position at LACCD caught his attention but required an assessment test along with the application. “I loved to take tests,” Fallo said. “Every time they’d ask if I’d like to take a test for this or that, I’d say yes. I liked the idea of aptitude tests. It was fun to see what my strengths were and where I might thrive.”

That particular placement test seemed to have been right on the money—Fallo went on to spend the next 17 years working for LACCD (where, coincidentally, he would later serve with Linda Thor), moving up the ranks from staff assistant all the way to interim chancellor. It was such a thrilling time,” Fallo said. “I was raised to appreciate education, and so to be in a district office where nine colleges were centralized—it was just a wonderful time in my life.” Fallo attributes much of his success to a handful of senior-level colleagues who mentored him and kept encouraging him to take on more responsibility. “I never considered job classification,” he said. “I just kept working as hard as I could to further the goals of the organization.”

Campus life beckons.

He eventually left LACCD to pursue a position on a college campus. “As I was maturing and growing in my career, I realized that I needed more experience working in direct contact with students and faculty,” said Fallo, who accepted a job as vice president of administrative services at Glendale Community College in Glendale, California.

After two years of service at Glendale, Fallo was offered a similar position at El Camino College in Torrance, California, a move that brought him closer to home (and back to a campus where he had been a student for a semester many years earlier). It was shortly after he began his tenure at El Camino that Fallo decided to pursue a doctoral degree. He says that Pepperdine was a natural choice. “Pepperdine was touted—people spoke very highly of it. It was also very convenient—I was able to attend classes at night.”

Then, in 1995, with one semester of course work still to go and a dissertation to complete, Fallo became the fifth president of El Camino College, a community college which serves 30,000 students in 10 cities in and around Southern California’s South Bay and employs more than 800 full-time faculty and staff.

“Community college means open access at a relatively low price,” Fallo said. “Every culture prizes education—no matter where you are in the world, education is always associated with good. We offer that educational opportunity for everyone, whether they are looking to transfer, or for vocational education, or even for remedial education. Community college is part of a democratic society.”

In 2002, El Camino was successful in earning approval for a $394 million construction bond, the largest construction bond of any single-campus community college district in the history of the state. “It was a great accomplishment,” Fallo said. “We will be renovating and rebuilding the campus for a good 15 years.” The build-out will forever change the entire landscape of the campus, which is already the second largest community college in the nation in terms of square feet.

“For more than a decade, Dr. Fallo has overseen historic growth and change at our college,” said William J. Beverly, president of the El Camino Community College District Board of Trustees. “Under his leadership and fiscal guidance, El Camino College has undertaken an extensive campus-wide facilities plan—one that will meet the needs of our students well into the future.”

Community has its rewards.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Fallo’s career has been living and working in the same community he serves. “El Camino is so well respected here,” he said. “It’s fun to see my students working in the local shops or what not—they show so much appreciation for their school.”

Fallo’s first public appearance as president was at the local Rotary Club. “One man stood up and told a story about his daughter,” Fallo explained. “He said she had gone to UC Davis and struggled there, so she came home and in turn thrived at El Camino, and had since become a doctor. Well then another fellow stood up and had to top his story. “Pretty soon,” Fallo continued, “I just stood back and let the whole audience testify about what an impact El Camino had had on their lives. That was wonderful.”

Much like Thor, Fallo is sentimental when it comes to graduation season. “It’ll the best day of the year. The joy on the faces of the students makes it all worthwhile,” he concluded. “This career has been a great fit for me. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, from being a staff assistant, to being a budget manager to having been blessed with being president and being able to serve the community.”

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