EVERETT — Everett Community College is looking for a new leader after President Daria Willis announced Thursday she will resign to helm a different community college, in Maryland.
Willis will be the first African American president of Howard Community College, in Columbia, Maryland.
“This was a very difficult decision as I have enjoyed the progress we have made on behalf of students,” Willis said in a statement. “This new position will bring me closer to my family, and it will offer me another opportunity to lead a college whose mission is providing pathways to success. It is an honor to lead at EvCC and I am extremely proud of the resiliency of our students, faculty and staff during the pandemic.”
Willis, who signed a three-year contract with EvCC that began in July 2019, will continue with the college through December. She will not be compensated beyond that point.
Willis, who is from Atlanta, said the move to Howard Community College will put her closer to her parents, who recently received “some troubling diagnoses,” Willis told The Daily Herald. “The pandemic changed some things and our parents are getting older.”
A search consultant requested she apply for the presidency at Howard, Willis said.
“This is certainly unexpected. Coming in, I was excited to have a long tenure,” Willis said. “I know that the college will continue to soar when the board announces an interim (president) and when a permanent president is put into place.”
She thanked EvCC’s board of trustees, faculty senate president Michael Nevins and Nina Benedetti, president of AFT Everett Higher Education Local 1873, and the community for their support.
“The resolve of the faculty to make it through the pandemic was truly an effort of teamwork. I know the college will continue to put their best foot forward to keep students first,” Willis said.
I am excited to join @HowardCC to serve as its 5th president. Thank you to @EverettCC for your support. We accomplished so much together for our students. My family and I are excited to continue our life of service to HCC community! https://t.co/GPVTLRwb2D
— Dr. Daria Willis (@EvccPrez) November 4, 2021
Willis, EvCC’s 17th president, steered staff and more than 19,000 students through the COVID-19 pandemic for most of her tenure. During the pandemic, she was an early adopter of remote learning, cut 85 part-time positions and spent $1.2 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act relief funds to clear student debt for over 3,400 people.
EvCC’s facilitator of aerospace and advanced manufacturing careers, Terri Reade, said Willis’ impact transcended her short tenure.
Her effort to create a culture of greater transparency at the college was noticeable, Reade said.
“She was transparent about decisions and how they were made,” Reade said, “delivering good news and bad news with a positive attitude.” Reade singled out Willis’ equity initiatives for praise, saying “they didn’t just include certain populations but had to do with an attitude of fairness.”
Shelby Burke, vice president of finance at EvCC, said Willis “made some great changes and improvements” to how the institution serves students and the community, despite her short, 2½-year tenure.
Her commitment to equity, “making it the center of all of our mission, vision and goals,” included a focus on students who are parents, Burke said. “She launched a weekend college for adult students and student-parents.”
To help fund the weekend college, Willis secured part of a $100,000 Washington Department of Labor grant.
During Willis’ presidency, EvCC secured $43.5 million from the Legislature to fund construction of the new Cascade Learning Resource Center and received $2.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to support programs for students of color, students who are low-income and students with disabilities.
Prior to Everett, Willis was provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York.
Willis was EvCC’s first African American and fourth woman president. She took over after the retirement of David Beyer, the school’s longest-serving president for 13 years. Her three-year contract included an annual salary of $241,000.
She also worked with the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee on Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations.
Willis will be Howard Community College’s first African American president. Her presidency begins Jan. 10.
EvCC’s Board of Trustees was scheduled to discuss future leadership in an executive session Monday but were not expected to select a new president then.
“The board is committed to working with Dr. Willis and the college community for a smooth and successful transition,” Board Chairperson Toraya Miller said. “While we are sorry that Dr. Willis is leaving EvCC, we are grateful for her many accomplishments during her time here.”