From humble beginnings to college president

, , November 20, 2015 Feature, Features Print Print
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President Steward

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OCCC President Jerry Steward proudly surveys the crowd gathered for the Presidential Investiture Oct. 30. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would lead the finest community college in the United States,” he said. Melissa Sue Lopez/Pioneer

Jerry Steward’s 41 years of involvement at OCCC reached its pinnacle Oct. 30.

He was recognized for his success and hard work during his investiture as OCCC’s 10th president.

Steward said his years being part of the college have helped him step into the presidency and give him the ability to better establish its direction for the future.

“I know the college,” he said. “I know the people, I know the budgets, I know the organizational structure, and most importantly, I know the community in which the college sits.”

Steward said he is pleased to see how much attention has been focused on the college during this time of transition.

“The most exciting part of the day for me is to have the college recognized by so many people,” he said.

About 800 people attended the event, including Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson, other state leaders and college presidents.

Steward said the investiture ceremony was a celebration of what OCCC means to Oklahoma City.

“This is a celebration of the continuity of the college much more than it is a celebration of my presidency.”

He noted his five deceased siblings and his parents, Richard and Ruby Steward, who he said made him into the person he is today.

“They taught me … by deed and by example the almost unbelievable power of perseverance and hard work.”

Steward took the opportunity to speak of new developments at OCCC.

“Just yesterday we signed a contract with Honda,” Steward said. “Oklahoma City Community College will be the only Honda Training Center in the state of Oklahoma, and one of only 24 in the country.”

He said the program, starting in March, will be similar to the GM technician training program already at the college.

He said the Honda program will produce automotive technicians who will graduate with associate degrees to jobs that in their first year start at $60,000 to $80,000 a year.

“Folks, that is workplace development,” Steward said.

He said he and the college will have to be “nimble and quick” to determine what the jobs of the future are.

He also spoke of the adult mentoring program, Students Connecting with Mentors for Success, to be offered in the spring for the first time.

Steward said when he was a young boy he walked down the dirt road that ran in front of his house and made plans for his future.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe that I would have the opportunity to lead the finest community college faculty and staff in the United States,” he said.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would have the opportunity to lead a great college like this that has provided hope for so many people.”

During the investiture breakfast, Regent Christie Burgin said the day marked a significant point in OCCC’s history with Steward being formally invested as OCCC’s 10th president.

Regent Devery Youngblood said the investiture is somewhat like New Year’s Day — it is a time to restart goals under new leadership. He said one of the reasons Steward was selected as OCCC’s president is his longtime involvement with the college and his political background.

“I think we’re headed toward some very challenging times with our budgets,” he said.

“At the same time, we have more need to provide people with a pathway out of poverty and into the middle class that only education can provide.

“We’re going to have to do more with less, and there is nobody more qualified to do that than Jerry Steward.”

Oklahoma Representative and OCCC alumnus Shane Stone (R-OKC) said he thought Steward was “the perfect person” to be college president due to his connection with state legislators and southside Oklahoma City constituents.

“He’s on a first-name basis with all the right people who you would want him to be on a first-name basis with,” Stone said.

Also in attendance was former Oklahoma Governor and former University of Central Oklahoma President George Nigh, who said he came to support his longtime friend.

“Being a former president, I know he is going to need all the help he can get,” Nigh said.

After the ceremony, Steward said now is the time to focus on the future.

“I am pleased this event is past us and now we can just concentrate on the work ahead of us,” Steward said. “That’s really what I’m focused on.”

Academic Student Success Director Darby Johnsen said she thinks Steward is well-suited for the job.

While the investiture draws attention to the college’s future, it acknowledges its past as well.

“I think that this is the right president at the right time in the college’s history,” she said.

“It will allow us to continue … supporting the community and our students. So it’s a celebration of the next era but with great ties to the past.”

After the ceremony, Steward’s wife, Tammy, said she is very excited about the future of the college.

“It’s a wonderful day for OCCC,” she said.

“It’s a wonderful day for Dr. Steward and the community, faculty and everybody. I thought it went wonderful.

“We had a great turnout and the future is great for OCCC.”

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