Although stepping into the role as the president of Scottsdale Community College may have seemed like a daunting task, it is a role Dr. Eric Leshinskie had been prepared for since starting with Maricopa Community Colleges almost 20 years ago.
Leshinskie began working with Maricopa Community Colleges in 2003 as an instructional designer for the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction after relocating here from Richmond, Virginia.
It was not long after taking the job that Leshinskie realized he eventually wanted to pursue a larger role.
“I realized I was interested in becoming an administrator and eventually becoming a college president,” he said.
After spending about nine years in his role with the district and forming relationships with each of its 10 community colleges as he worked his way to becoming the director of Maricopa Community Colleges Center for Learning and Instruction, Leshinskie was offered the opportunity to become dean of instruction at Glendale Community College.
“It was very clear to me when I came to a college campus, there was an energy, there was a pulse and there was a vibrancy and I was very excited to connect to a college and to connect with that excitement and connect with that energy ,” he recalled.
Leshinskie continued to climb the ladder from there as he was later asked to serve as the interim vice president of academic affairs.
In 2018, he was asked to take the same position permanently at Paradise Valley Community College and held that role until he was asked to serve as the interim provost for the district – a position he held for 18 months before being named the president of Scottsdale Community College.
“I think it helped me to better understand what it will mean to serve as the president of Scottsdale Community College,” he said of the provost job.
In February, Leshinskie got the news he had been waiting for. He would join the likes of Dr. Art DeCabooter, Dr. Jan Gehler and Chris Haines as the president of Scottsdale Community College.
Leshinskie is excited to continue to build on the relationships that the school has established over the past half-century.
“I’ve heard great things about the innovation that this college brings to the deep-rooted connection that this college has had for 50 years with the community,” he said. “I think the unique relationship with the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community is such an attractive aspect of who we are, and what we are.”
Because of this, one of his major focuses during the first few months of his presidency will be to foster those relationships even further.
“So, part of my first six months here is having those initial meetings to meet with the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community to meet with leading businesses and industry around to engage with the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce,” Leshinskie said.
“So, the first step is to just introduce myself, meet with them, and learn. The second step is not only to see how Scottsdale can benefit from our relationship…and how we can also support them.”
However, his biggest focus is on enriching the lives of the students who walk onto his campus or log on to a class virtually.
“I just was so excited to connect with the students of Scottsdale and help them and in the role that I play to achieve their goals and wherever they may be. Whether that’s workforce development, whether that’s transfer to a university partner or earning a degree with us,” Leshinskie said.
“Some of the advice that I’ve heard very clearly is to listen to your students since students have the pulse of the institution.”
Leshinskie also is aiming to see more return to the classrooms as there has been a decrease in the number of students who have enrolled in college over the past few years.
“We’ve been experiencing somewhat of a downturn similar to the national downturn that occurred during the pandemic and what’s causing that is there are a lot of competing priorities right now and the job market is one where when students can earn a part-time job or get a full-time job quickly and efficiently that’s paying at an hourly rate that might meet some immediate needs, they may make that choice to meet those needs,” Leshinskie said.
Leshinskie is optimistic about an enrollment rebound.
“I’m optimistic, though, since we’re starting to see our numbers trend in the right direction across our system and also locally here at Scottsdale with the enhancement of our in-person experiences,” he said.
“Coming this fall we’re going to be returning to our in-person experiences, more students will be on campus and consequently, more employees will be on campus.”
Leshinskie also plans to create classes that work with students’ schedules.
“The second component is we’re examining how we’re offering our courses in what modality, what length of time and what time of day,” he said. “Three-quarters of our students are part-time, meaning they’re probably working at least one job if not more than one job so we need to do all we can do to create learning opportunities to create flexible engagement opportunities and how they’ re offered: whether that’d be both in person or in a hybrid format or in the virtual format.
“I hope we are going to move even more towards this flexible delivery of instruction, and flexible delivery of services.”
Leshinskie is also excited to launch new career-focused and workforce programs this fall and hopes they will also attract students back to campus.
“We are launching some new programs and workforce programs, including a pharmacy tech program, that’s getting off the ground,” he said.
“I want to see us solidify those programs that are more career focused and try to do our best to market them in a way that will attract students who will then see the growth or see the value of those programs and allow those programs to grow. ”
However, he knows that a key component of attracting and retaining students on campus is establishing an ethic of care.
“I want us to embrace an ethic of care. I want students and staff to feel that we care about them as an institution that when you choose to be an Artichoke with that comes this level of care and support that we’re here for your success,” Leshinskie said.
“You’re not just a number, you’re not just another student who’s walking into our classroom or onto our campus. We truly care about who you are, and what you want to accomplish, and we’re here to support you.”