It is my absolute conviction that every citizen in every community—regardless of socio-economic, cultural, ethnic, or academic background—should have access to higher education. As a first-generation college student, I am acutely aware of the power of learning to transform a life. Indeed, the very best colleges are in the business of transforming lives through learning.

Dr. Debbie L. Sydow is president of Richard Bland College, a two-year branch college of William and Mary founded in 1960. Located in Petersburg, VA, and serving approximately 1,600 students, Richard Bland College is the state’s only junior college. Richard Bland College has as its primary mission the delivery of exceptional transfer associate degree programs in liberal arts and sciences, with more than ninety percent of Richard Bland graduates transferring to four-year institutions to complete their baccalaureate degrees. The college also serves the public by providing education and cultural opportunities for the community at large.

Sydow is president emerita of Onondaga Community College, a comprehensive community college of more than 12,000 students and one of the largest community colleges in the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Through consistent, disciplined, and strategic leadership, during her twelve (12) years as president Dr. Sydow achieved the goal of enhancing the effectiveness—and concomitantly—the image and reputation of SUNY Onondaga, which led to an unprecedented 65% growth in enrollment. Her student-focused leadership during more than a decade of institutional transformation resulted in a re-balanced portfolio of academic programs, the re-engineering and centralization of enrollment and student services into a “single point of entry,” and the introduction of residence halls and a robust student life program. Dramatically expanding educational opportunities for a highly diverse body of students, Sydow established a Regional Higher Education Center, offering both Bachelor and Master degree programs on the Onondaga campus, an award-winning sustainability program, and a highly acclaimed “Arts Across Campus” collaborative.

By re-prioritizing and leveraging SUNY Onondaga’s resources, Sydow oversaw extensive capital improvement and expansion in support of strategic enrollment goals, student success and brand elevation. She raised more than $100 million in grants, and $110 million in state and local capital fund appropriations. She successfully led the college’s $7.5 million capital campaign, and Sydow’s efforts increased the number of donors to the college by 70%, bringing in needed resources to fund student scholarships. In addition, she expanded community access to higher education by launching distance education and flexible program offerings.

Dr. Sydow began her career at Southwest Virginia Community College as an English professor where she was awarded the Faculty-Scholar Award in recognition of her scholarly achievement. As Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division at the same college, she initiated successful programs in faculty development, outcomes assessment, and distance education. Dr. Sydow served as lead researcher and writer for the Virginia Community College System’s highly acclaimed professional development program. Just prior to assuming the presidency at Onondaga Community College, Dr. Sydow served as Vice President of Academic and Student Services–and for a time as Acting President–at Mountain Empire Community College.

A native of Virginia, Dr. Sydow earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, a Master of Arts degree in English from Marquette University, and a Ph.D. in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She completed post-graduate work in community college administration at Virginia Tech and is an alumna of the American Council on Education’s Fellows program. Sydow has published numerous academic papers, and recently co-authored a book to be released this year as part of the American Council on Education’s Community College Series.

An active professional and civic leader, Dr. Sydow has served as President of the New York Community College Association of Presidents, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Community College Development at Cornell University, and as Chair of the American Council on Education’s Commission on Leadership and Institutional Effectiveness.  In addition, she serves on several community and corporate boards, including M&T Bank’s Regional Board, the MVP Healthcare, Inc., Board of Directors, and the Coyne Textiles, Inc., Board of Directors.  In recognition of community and college leadership, Dr. Sydow has received the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) CEO of the Year Award for the Northeast Region, Women in Business Award, YWCA Diversity Achievers Award, Girls Scouts Women of Distinction Award, The Zonta Club of Syracuse’s Crystal Award, The Post-Standard Achievement Award, the National Diversity Council’s Tri-State Most Powerful and Influential Women Award, the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society’s Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction, the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) CNY Chapter’s 2010 President’s Award, the Leadership Greater Syracuse Distinguished Community Leader Award, Community General Hospital’s Community Service Award, the InterFaith Works Leadership Award, the Temple Adath Yeshurun Citizen of the Year Award, and the Central New York Sales & Marketing Executives Crystal Ball Award.


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