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President Joyce Ester's leadership style elevating and inspiring students at Normandale Community College in Minnesota

Star Tribune

Normandale Community College president Joyce Ester

In the corner of Joyce Ester’s office, hanging in plain sight, are two sets of academic robes: one signifying her Ph.D., the other her position as president of Normandale Community College in Bloomington. It’s an intentional display, said Ester, who this week begins her second year leading Minnesota’s largest community college and its more than 14,000 students.

“I keep them in sight as a conversation starter,” she said. “A lot of my students are first-generation college students. They don’t know what this all means — the academy, the regalia.” Ester wants students to view themselves as part of an educational heritage stretching back for centuries.

“I believe in the idea of the academy,” Ester continued. “I often say to people, ‘Community college is not pre-college, and it is not post-high school. It is college. It is not training wheels.’ ”

The 50-year-old Ester, who grew up in suburban Chicago, began her own academic career aspiring to become a social worker. While working as a dorm adviser in graduate school, she began to see how she could make a difference in the lives of students.

“When you live with several hundred undergrads, having those 3 a.m. conversations, you learn a lot about people,” Ester said. Later she worked as a university judicial officer, handling student discipline.
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