Human Interest

Those calling for a Verde Valley resident to be appointed to a top leadership role at Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus have a reason to rejoice: On Aug. 1, Barb Waak became interim Associate Dean of the institution, taking over for the departed Kelley Trainor.

“I do think it’s a very positive thing for the community,” Waak said. “My personal goal in this interim time is to build enrollment on this campus, to restore trust in the community and to increase morale among the faculty.”

Fortunately for Waak, one of her goals is already becoming a reality: Within the first week of instruction at the Verde campus, enrollment numbers indicated an increase over last year’s by nearly two dozen students.

Waak hopes to build on such momentum by creating and sustaining a positive culture on campus, founding a framework for sustainable growth.

“Bottom line is, we all really love our jobs. If we’re positive, that transfers to students. That’s going to change a lot,” she said.

Waak is a 22-year veteran of teaching, most of it at Yavapai College, where she graduated with an associate degree in 1978 before moving on to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at Northern Arizona University and a Ph.D. in higher education administration at Capella University. The Verde Valley has been her home for over two decades.

From 2009 to 2010, Waak served as president of the Yavapai College Faculty Association, representing the interests of approximately 113 faculty members, helping to increase their potential to teach.

Perhaps because of this investment in educating others, Waak admitted that moving to administration, acting as advocate for diverse populations within the college, has been a lesson in balancing priorities — that, and coming to terms with not being in the classroom, among students.

“I have a passion for teaching and learning,” Waak said, emphasizing that both factors are of equal importance. “Teaching is a gift. To not be practicing your gift .... I have to admit, I was a little melancholy.”

Nonetheless, Waak added that her first month has been a pure joy.

“I keep saying to [Verde Valley Campus Executive Dean James Perey], ‘This is so fun,’” she said.

The position doesn’t come without its risks, though. The college will begin its own national search for the position her predecessor vacated July 7 and Waak occupies as interim. Though Waak intends to apply for the permanent position, she said that if she is not chosen she will simply return to exercising her gift — teaching English courses at Yavapai College.

“I don’t know how the college could find anyone more skilled to fill the associate dean position,” Yavapai College District Governing Board Member Deb McCasland stated. “Barb has been with Yavapai College for over 20 years, is a Yavapai College graduate and has taught multiple courses for Yavapai College.

McCasland called Waak a “leader” who lives in the Verde Valley.

“The Yavapai College Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee has stressed the need to have an advocate for the Verde Valley campus that lives in the Verde Valley,” McCasland continued. “I think Barb is an excellent choice for the interim position and hopefully will continue as the permanent associate dean.”

“I support a hiring process that would give the taxpayers the most qualified person for the job,” YCD Governing Board Member Al Filardo said. “I think a lot of the citizens in the Verde Valley believe that decisions related to education services provided by Yavapai College in the Verde Valley will be made most effectively by someone who better understands the needs of the community.”

Waak, who also serves as Yavapai College’s dual enrollment English liaison, said that the $10-per-credit-hour fee instituted this semester — a fee that resulted in many objections from the community, saying that it would unfairly tax local high school student families — has not affected dual enrollment numbers. More Verde Valley high school students are taking dual enrollment courses than ever before.

“We were way behind the curve for Arizona,” Waak said of the fees, adding that the state’s community colleges generally charge for dual enrollment courses.


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