CEO retirement

Sanford “Sandy” Shugart, president of Valencia College in Florida since 2000, announced this week that he will retire from the college in June 2021.

Under Shugart’s leadership, the Orlando college was the first recipient of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2011. In 2017, Shugart received the McGraw Prize in Education, crediting Valencia’s successes to a collaborative effort between the college, the leadership team, and its faculty members and staff.

For two decades Shugart has led Valencia in a process to significantly change the college experience by putting student learning first in order to improve completion. He focused on students’ experience during their first year, observing that students are more likely to finish their degrees when they do well during that initial year. That lead to the college’s successful New Student Experience, which resulted in improved graduation rates. For example, Valencia saw an 87 percent increase in students completing the associate of arts program from 2006 to 2014.

“Instead of looking at how things like student affairs or financial aid could be reformed, we decided to focus on the classroom first. That’s where most of the student experience is,” he said in an interview in 2017.

Shugart also helped to design the DirectConnect program, which guarantees students who receive their associate degrees from Valencia and five other colleges admission to the University of Central Florida.

Prior to Valencia, Shugart was president of North Harris College in Houston from 1991 to 1999. He also served as vice president for program services and chief academic officer for the North Carolina Community College System from 1983 to 1991. Over his career, Shugart also was a research associate and policy advisor in North Carolina’s Office of the Governor, dealing with state policy and programs in higher education, science, technology, economic development and innovation. In addition, he was an instructor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a high school teacher.

Shugart serves on several state and national professional organizations, including the American Council on Education’s Commission on Leadership. He also was chair of the Florida Council of Presidents from 2004 to 2006.

CEO obituary

Salvatore “Sal” Giuseppe Rotella, the seventh president for California’s Riverside City College and then the first chancellor of Riverside Community College District (RCCD), passed away on August 11. He was 86. Rotella served RCCD for 15 years, retiring in 2007.

Under his leadership, the district expanded campuses in Moreno Valley and Norco and added innovative programs to encourage a college-going culture. One such innovation was the Passport to College, which guaranteed that fifth graders in the 1996 class could attend college tuition-free. Many of those students came from working-class, predominantly Latino communities. Then-president Bill Clinton honored the program during a White House ceremony.

Current RCCD Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac, a former university president in Eritrea who became close friends with Rotella, noted Rosella’s astuteness in transforming the district’s three colleges, which remain major drivers in RCCD’s strategic plan. For example, Moreno Valley College concentrates on allied health and public safety, while Norco College focuses on engineering, manufacturing and logistics.

Rotella began working as a professor of social science at City Colleges of Chicago. In 1983, he became chancellor of the eight-college Chicago system, where he created the Public Service Institute, a pioneering effort to train police officers, firefighters and other public servants, and Chicago City-Wide College, a non-traditional institution without walls whose students included U.S. troops at bases overseas.

Rotella also created a sister city program between Chicago and Milan. The Italian government honored him with its Order of Merit in 1985. Rotella was also an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, directing a graduate program in public administration whose students included many law enforcement officers seeking to advance their careers.

In 1988, Rotella moved to New York to serve as vice president at Nassau Community College and also taught at Stony Brook University. In 1992, he was named chancellor of RCCD.

Born in Italy but spending most of his youth in the then Italian colony of Eritrea, Rotella came to the U.S. in 1951 at age 17 with his family. He barely spoke English, but over the next five years he earned his baccalaureate and master’s degree. He later added two doctorates.

“A scholar and a visionary are the terms most often used in describing Dr. Salvatore Rotella,” said Mary Figueroa, president of the RCCD board of trustees. “He was a leader unlike any other to have come along in Riverside’s history. His ultimate contribution was his desire and focus to ensure that any student, regardless of where they came from, what their socio-economic background was, or the color of their skin, received a quality education. The growth of this district in the last 30 years can be attributed to him and his vision, and the region has excelled for having had his presence.”


Scott Gray is the new vice president of administrative services at Northeast Community College in Nebraska. He previously was a lawyer and founding partner at a law firm in Norfolk.

Dolores Peterson has been promoted to vice president of fiscal and human resources at Reading Area Community College in Pennsylvania. She previously was associate vice president for finance and administrative services. Peterson joined the college in 2001.

Larissa Verta is now vice president for academic services and student development at Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC) in Pennsylvania. She previously served in an interim role for that position. Prior to that, Verta served in other capacities at the college, including: dean of science, engineering and math; interim dean of healthcare sciences; and associate academic dean and director of learning communities and faculty development.

Connecticut State Community College, as part of the state’s plan to merge its community colleges into one system, has appointed four new associate vice presidents:

Steve McDowell is associate vice president for financial aid services and Title IV compliance. Most recently, he provided leadership and direction in all areas of financial aid administration for the 12 community colleges.

Tamika Davis is associate vice president of recruitment, admissions and community outreach. Prior to joining the system office as a guided pathways manager and student success center coach, she was admissions director at Tunxis Community College.

Gayle Barrett is associate vice president for enrollment and retention services. She previously was the registrar and chief FERPA officer at Middlesex Community College.

Michael Buccilli is associate vice president for student success management. Prior to serving in a statewide guided pathways leadership role, he held leadership positions in advising, career services and veterans’ affairs at Gateway Community College.


Heather Rinkenbaugh, dean of online, high school and community learning at Butler Community College in Kansas, is among Wichita Business Journal’s 2020 Women in Business. The award honors women who educate themselves, further their career and mentor younger women to do the same, and are dedicated to training, educating and making connections for women.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.