‘A True Leader’: Dr. Kathleen Hetherington Leaves a Legacy at Howard Community College
September 29, 2021
After 22 illustrious years at Howard Community College, Dr. Kathleen Hetherington is set to retire on Oct. 1. Throughout her tenure at HCC, Dr. Hetherington has made it her purpose to create a positive, safe and enjoyable atmosphere at our school and has sculpted HCC into a respected and distinguished institution. As the school’s fourth president since the college opened in 1970, Dr. Hetherington’s work has led our school to national prominence for its academic programs, and our student population has blossomed to over 26,000.
Dr. Hetherington’s tenacity as president allowed every student at HCC to learn in an enriching and supportive environment. With her retirement approaching, students and staff are saddened to see her go, but grateful for her contributions and hard work.
Andrea Campbell was a student at HCC who graduated this past summer. While at HCC, Campbell participated in Step UP!, a program that pairs students with a mentor to help them navigate issues they face as college students. As Campbell’s coach, Dr. Hetherington was always prepared to deliver support, resources and answers to any questions Campbell had.
“She would point out resources and helpful events that were coming up…” Campbell explained. “If I needed assistance…she would be there.”
Campbell described her relationship with Dr. Hetherington as “very professional and a safe place.” In addition to maintaining productivity within their meetings, Dr. Hetherington facilitated an inviting atmosphere, Campbell said.
“Being able to sit and talk to her was very comforting. She was laid back and set the tone for being open and being secure. She had an amazing attitude and [was] always looking for great solutions.”
Another student who worked with Dr. Hetherington was Addison Haynie, who served as SGA President for the 2017-18 school year. During her tenure, Haynie collaborated with Dr. Hetherington on various events, including a fundraiser for the charity United Way in 2017. Haynie expressed the impact that working with Dr. Hetherington left on her.
“I wanted to be someone like her. I wanted to be a leader and have that personality,” Haynie said. “Even though [Dr. Hetherington] was my boss, I never felt below her and she talked to me like we were on the same level which made me feel really good, as well. She [was] a fun, nice woman who wanted to help a lot and I fully appreciated her.”
Terrel Willis, a completion specialist and assistant men’s basketball coach at HCC, began at the college as a student in 2016. Something he remembers about the president during his time as an HCC student was that she never forgot his name, despite only having a quick introduction at Café on the Quad.
“[Dr. Hetherington] deals with millions of students who have come in, she has always… addressed me by my name and not just another student. That shocked me,” Willis said. “I was just a kid coming from Washington, D.C. and it made me smile a lot that the president of the college knew my name.”
As a staff member at HCC, Willis admires the dedication Dr. Hetherington has had for each organization and individual at the college.
“She showed up to basketball games. We had the president of the college out there and not many colleges have that,” Willis exclaimed. “Those college games which [do have the president in attendance], they’re on the front page of ESPN and they’re getting all this recognition.”
Willis also recalled the time when the HCC men’s basketball team had just won the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 20 championship and was scheduled to travel to Illinois for the national tournament when the coronavirus pandemic intensified in March 2020.
Dr. Hetherington made the difficult decision to cancel all athletic events due to concerns for students’ safety. Willis pointed out that it was only after Dr. Hetherington’s announcement that surrounding community colleges followed HCC’s example and canceled their athletic events, as well.
“That’s the kind of trailblazer she was,” Willis said of Dr. Hetherington’s confidence in making executive decisions.
Some staff members were fortunate to have a unique look at Dr. Hetherington’s community involvement beyond campus. For the past two years, Brianne Nolan, who works in the Office of Student Life, has attended Student Advocacy Day with Dr. Hetherington at the Maryland State House in Annapolis. The event is organized by the Maryland Association of Community Colleges and provides an opportunity for members of the HCC community to speak about the legislative priorities for community colleges. Nolan also testified in support of HCC’s FY20 request at the County Executive’s fiscal year budget hearing.
After working with her on this initiative, Nolan acknowledged Dr. Hetherington as “one of the kindest people I have ever met in my entire life. She has a very inspiring way about her. When you…interact with her, [you can tell] she is very invested in what she’s doing.”
As the Executive Director of Planning, Research and Organizational Development at HCC, Zoe Irvin had a front-row seat to Dr. Hetherington’s work on campus. She explained how the president’s dedication to fulfilling the college’s mission ultimately facilitated HCC’s winning of the 2019 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) in the category of education.
“Kate exhibited a steadfast pursuit of excellence to provide great service to our students and a wonderful place for our employees to work,” Irvin emphasized.
The Baldrige Award is granted to companies that have implemented successful and effective quality management systems and is regarded as a coveted national honor for performance excellence. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the award is the “highest level of national recognition for performance excellence that a U.S. organization can receive.”
Recipients of the MBNQA are recognized for their excellence in seven categories that reflect the core values and concepts of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance. Examiners evaluate a company’s leadership, strategy and customer relationships. Companies are also considered based upon their measurement, analysis and knowledge management, as well as workforce proficiency, operational effectiveness and the results they produce.
Dr. Hetherington was at the forefront of the college’s efforts to excel in these seven categories. From constantly making an effort to include the HCC community in the shared governance of the college to investing in a web-intelligence system that provides students the tools necessary for crafting the blueprint of their pathway to success, Dr. Hetherington remained laser-focused on improving performance wherever necessary. “In each of the seven categories, Kate championed initiatives to improve the college,” Irvin proclaimed.
While Dr. Hetherington may have led HCC’s charge to the prestigious award, she always kept an open mind when it came to suggestions for improvement. “Kate was always open to the best ideas to improve any process to provide better service,” Irvin said, adding that Dr. Hetherington often stressed the importance of “[letting] everyone be a leader in their own space.”
Kate exhibited a steadfast pursuit of excellence to provide great service to our students and a wonderful place for our employees to work”
— Zoe Irvin, HCC Executive Director of Planning, Research and Organizational Development
Irvin emphasized that while winning the award was wonderful, HCC’s desires for growth and improvement remain the ultimate priority. “It’s always nice to compare yourself to world-class organizations,” she admitted, “But, are we done? No. We’ll never be done.”
As SGA President during the 2020-21 school year, Darryl Jeffries experienced firsthand the caring and selfless demeanor that Dr. Hetherington always exhibited.
He stressed the authenticity of Dr. Hetherington’s character and how her students-first attitude was anything but a façade.
“Just seeing her talk and hearing what she had to say, she made it known that she was a genuine person, and she was definitely caring,” Jeffries explained.
While Dr. Hetherington has been an integral member of the HCC community in countless facets, Jeffries highlighted the president’s constant desire for improvement as what truly made her a keen asset.
“She was always looking for the next big [project]; she was quick to make things happen,” Jeffries explained. He added that when it came to planning events, Dr. Hetherington “always put things in motion” and did not waste time transitioning from one goal to the next.
“She was definitely proactive,” Jeffries emphasized.
That proactive nature — combined with her students-first mentality — perhaps shone brightest in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced campus to shut down.
While leading the transition to remote learning amidst unprecedented circumstances, Dr. Hetherington’s eagle-eye focus and decisive leadership helped students and staff remain calm.
“I feel like her staying positive and being optimistic helped everyone else feel comfortable and at ease,” Jeffries explained. “[Dr. Hetherington] never made it seem like she didn’t know what she was doing, and she never made it seem like we were in trouble.”
In Jeffries’ eyes, it was apparent that Dr. Hetherington understood she was part of something much bigger than herself. “She actually cared about the school, cared about the students, and she wanted to make [Howard Community College] the best school in Maryland.”
As the HCC community braces for the departure of an irreplaceable figure, Jeffries offers advice to HCC’s new president, stressing the importance of putting students first and allowing their voices to be heard.
“Dr. Hetherington made sure that everyone was heard and that everyone’s opinion mattered,” Jeffries asserted. “I feel like as long as that next person comes in and makes sure that everyone is comfortable, is being heard and has a voice, I feel like [things] would be fine.”
For the last 22 years, Dr. Hetherington has left a significant impact on countless students and staff members at HCC. Students who have worked alongside her were amazed by her constant support and genuine care for all.
She actually cared about the school, cared about the students, and she wanted to make [Howard Community College] the best school in Maryland.”
— Darryl Jeffries, former HCC SGA President
Even though her time as president has come to an end, Dr. Hetherington’s legacy will forever remain on campus. On Sept. 22, Howard Community College’s board of trustees revealed that the Health Sciences Building will be renamed to the Kathleen Hetherington Health Sciences Building. Chris Marasco, Chair of HCC’s board of trustees, explained that Dr. Hetherington deserves the honor “in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the quality of instruction and services for students, growth of the college, partnership with the community and the field of higher education.”
While her departure will undoubtedly be bittersweet, the HCC community is endlessly grateful for everything Dr. Hetherington has contributed to it. She will be regarded as someone who acted with professionalism, decisiveness and compassion.
“She created this welcoming community and was the face of that,” said Haynie. “Dr. Hetherington is an extremely welcoming, happy, approachable and inspirational person. I really hope HCC can get another president like her because she is going to leave her mark.”