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Dr. Gail O. Mellow has served as president of LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens since 2000—making her one of the longest-serving US college presidents, and among the longest-serving presidents in the CUNY system.
A community college graduate herself, Dr. Mellow has become a national voice about the importance of community colleges in higher education, regularly emphasizing that nearly half of all US college students are enrolled at a community college.
She was among the early advocates about the benefits of free community college to narrow opportunity disparities among people from different backgrounds, and currently serves as a board member of America’s College Promise/Heads Up!, a campaign to make two years of community college tuition-free for those students willing to work for it.
She is frequently sought as a commentator on the changing landscape of higher education, strategies for improving the nation’s graduation rate and the important role community colleges play in growing America’s middle class and strengthening the economy. She has been extensively quoted in a range of publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, and has appeared on national radio and television broadcasts on NPR, MSNBC and PBS.
Under her leadership, LaGuardia has become a recognized leader among community colleges for conceptualizing and launching programs that have been replicated nationwide, and for innovative programs that illustrate how colleges and universities can support the communities where they are located.
These include Bridge to College and Careers, a unique high school equivalency program that puts students on one of three career-focused tracks (business, health, or technology). Course material is drawn from each industry. As a result, students are more engaged and graduate with knowledge they can use towards building their career. Extensive mentoring and support is built into Bridge, in order to help students address any personal issues that come up before they lead to dropping out. Bridge’s impressive outcomes, centered on the number of students who go onto earn college degrees and find good jobs, rather than by the number of students who earn their high school equivalency diploma, have drawn attention from educators around the country, many of whom began reaching out for advice on how to implement similar programs. As a result, a training institute, College & Career Pathways Institute, was established with staff dedicated to providing training for educators nationwide. You’ll often find these staff training teachers in New Mexico, Massachusetts, or hosting educators from Georgia on campus.
Another program that started here and has become a national model is 10,000 Small Businesses, a program designed to boost small business entrepreneurs into the next level of their business. The program started as a partnership between LaGuardia and Goldman Sachs. In 2010, LaGuardia was the first community college in the country selected for the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. Please click here to read about the 20th graduation of the 10,000 Small Businesses program, attended by Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, among other business/media leaders.
Because of her leadership at LaGuardia—where she’s fostered a culture of collaboration and innovation, the college has begun in recent years to bring in the kind of philanthropy that typically goes to four-year colleges, e.g., a $2 million gift from Goldman Sachs. And each year more than $20 million in external funding is secured through grants and contracts for workforce development programs and initiatives that support at-risk students.
She’s also overseen the undertaking of novel partnerships with key local employers to develop specific education-to-employment programs that enable disadvantaged youth to pursue a high-growth career, while simultaneously helping an employer expand the pool of qualified applicants for job openings. An example is our medical billing training program, which is the result of an innovative partnership between LaGuardia, the Harvard Business School Club of New York, Weill Cornell Medicine, and two NYC agencies. Media attention about it garnered interest from other area hospital systems, including NewYork-Presbyterian and Mount Sinai, which are also involved in the program as well.
Dr. Mellow’s scholarly work is focused on raising awareness about the importance of the quality of college teaching to the success of college students. As she’s said, “Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the quality of instruction in college. While K-12 instruction is routinely under the microscope, college teaching should be weighted even more heavily because college graduates are expected to be job-ready. If they’re not being taught by faculty who can be effective with a diverse student population—who can inspire a classroom of students to really engage, and help them understand why the material they’re studying is relevant to them and their future careers—then they aren’t being fully prepared to enter the job market.”
Relatedly, her research focus has been an examination of new ways to provide professional development to college professors—since most doctoral programs provide only minimal coursework in how to use the latest, proven effective teaching methods. A book she co-authored, Taking College Teaching Seriously: Pedagogy Matters! Fostering Student Success Through Faculty-Centered Practice Improvement (Stylus, 2015), detailing use of a secure online platform where faculty upload lesson plans, review their students’ response to the lessons, assess the overall classroom vibe, and discuss areas for improvement with colleagues from colleges and universities around the country.
As well, she co-authored Minding the Dream: The Process and Practice of the American Community College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed. 2014), drawing from her expertise on the history, development and future of the American community college, and has written numerous articles and editorials about higher education in America.
Her contributions to higher education have brought numerous recognitions. She was selected for the 2017 TIAA Institute Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence, one of the most prestigious awards in academia, and the 2016 NASPA President’s Award for advancing the quality of student life on campus.
She has published numerous opinion essays about the value of community colleges. One recent essay that she co-authored, “Community Colleges Can Heal a Divided America,” published in the February 20, 2017 Baltimore Sun was selected for the 2017 Public Image of the Two-Year College Award from the National Council of Teachers of English.
In addition to the above, Dr. Mellow serves on the boards of leading higher education organizations, including the American Council on Education, Jobs for the Future, Comprehensive Development Institute, and Change Magazine. As well, she is a member of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the National Commission on Financing 21st Century Higher Education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on Post-Secondary Education.
She also serves on key community-focused boards: Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector and the Long Island City Partnership.
Dr. Mellow received an A. A. from Jamestown Community College, a B.A. from SUNY Albany, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from George Washington University.
To learn more about Dr. Mellow, visit: www.laguardia.edu/gailmellow.