Maintaining an accreditation footing and educating the county’s workforce rank high on the list of priorities of Merced College, the new president said this week at a reception held in his honor.
School officials and area leaders gathered on the second floor of the college’s library Thursday to welcome President Chris Vitelli, who officially took over on Jan. 2. The 37-year-old beat out four other finalists for the top administrative job of the college of nearly 15,000.
“For me, I’ve been spending a lot of time listening on a listening tour,” he told the Sun-Star. “I’ve really been trying to meet with everyone, not just managers, but with custodians, different departments, constituencies. It’s really just me listening.”
Vitelli, who has a master’s degree from Harvard University and is in a doctoral program at Arizona State University, said the tour is meant to be give him a better grasp of the campus culture.
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Vitelli, who came to Merced from Florida about nine years ago, is the grandson of an Italian immigrant. He had with him at the reception an old cigar cutter keepsake that belonged to his grandmother, who worked her entire life in a cigar factory.
Education provides a future for generations. I’m sure my grandmother didn’t think that her grandson would be the president of a college.
Merced College President Chris Vitelli
“Education provides a future for generations,” he said. “I’m sure my grandmother didn’t think that her grandson would be the president of a college.”
Education can play a key role in helping people out of poverty, he said. And, he said, he supported the decision this week by the board of trustees to send a message to undocumented students that they are welcome on campus and should feel safe.
The Merced Community College District on Tuesday specifically addressed undocumented students and students in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The district also resolved that its campus police wouldn’t detain, question or arrest anyone solely based on immigration status.
This year, the college established its Office of Institutional Effectiveness, which is charged with tasks like strategic planning, data analysis, program review and accreditation, among other tasks. Vitelli said plans for that office go back to at least former President Ron Taylor.
“That’s been a real focus on getting that office running (and) looking at the full gamut of institutional effectiveness and making data-drive decisions,” he said. “Because we have that office in place, it’s certainly going to help us address those (accreditation) concerns.”
I thought, ‘I hope I win because I want to work with this guy.’
Boardmember Carmen Ramirez on President Chris Vitelli
The college tapped Baba Adam, who previously worked at Butte College, to serve as dean of the new department.
The college emerged from “accreditation warning” status in 2013. Merced College had to show its plans for improvement in five areas, including communications, to get approval from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
Earlier in the week, Vitelli met with UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, he said, and discussed how the college can better feed transfer students to the research university. That pipeline also would be strengthened by the college working with high-schoolers, he said.
Then there’s Merced’s workforce. “There’s a lot of career technical programs they can go through and (get) high-waged, high-skilled, in-demand (jobs) they could get by going through a 32-week program,” he said.
The college had a rocky 2016 with accusations of misuse of the campus police force, a lack of communication from board members and rapid changes. After Vitelli’s appointment, board members and college faculty called for a fresh start.
This year, the college established its Office of Institutional Effectiveness, which is charged with tasks like strategic planning, data analysis, program review and accreditation, among other tasks.
Board members at the reception spoke highly of the new president. Board President Joe Gutierrez said Vitelli, who was working as vice president of student services before getting the chief job, brought with him a knowledge and experience of the college and the community.
The board itself was reshaped as a result of November elections. Two of the seven members failed to win re-election, with teacher Gary Arzamendi and retired college instructor Wayne Hicks losing to real estate agent Ernie Ochoa and attorney Carmen Ramirez, respectively.
Ramirez said she first saw Vitelli at a public interview in October in which all of the candidates participated. She was not yet on the board but was a candidate.
“It was so optimistic and so positive,” she said, “I thought, ‘I hope I win because I want to work with this guy.’ ”