Dr. Jonathan Gueverra is not homesick. The new Florida Keys Community College president who hails from Trinidad began his tenure at the 46-year-old institution this past Monday with a staff meet and greet.
“This is so much more like home in so many more ways,” said Gueverra from his waterfront office on College Road. He speaks deliberately slowly with the eloquence and accent of a cultured and experienced educator. “The lifestyle, culture, vegetation. You have chickens running around in the street…it’s all apart of living in the Caribbean.”
He holds four degrees, and according to FKCC Board Trustee Robert Stoky, was a unanimous choice to lead the college.
“He is very articulate, and he had literally grown a college system,” praised Stoky, referring to Gueverra’s most recent community college post. As the first chief executive for the University of the District of Columbia Community College, Gueverra tripled enrollment and secured $10 million in grants, awards and private funding – in just three years.
“Now I know he did not do that by himself, but he was there as a leader,” said Stoky, calling Guerverra a “massive change agent” whose first decree will be to increase enrollment while he begins analyzing the college’s strengths and weaknesses.
“For as much as there is excitement when you have new things, there is also a sense of insecurity and uncertainty,” Gueverra said. “So you have to take what you got and work with it because we do not have unlimited resources, and that is exactly what people are.”
As an educator, he has taught undergraduate courses in accounting, management, and human resources as well as classes on leadership and strategic planning on the graduate level – skills needed to push the college into the next chapter of growth.
During his career, Gueverra has led two community colleges down the path to four-year accreditation and sees that as an obvious goal for FKCC.
“Most young people go to earn their degree someplace within 50 to 80 miles of home,” he said. “There is no school with a bachelor program within 50 to 80 miles, so if we do not have that option we are simply saying, ‘Go away’.”
The award-winning author is also cognizant of the plight of the college student – particularly that of the community college student and the direct relationship those students have to the local economy.
“By the very nature of not having a strong institution here, you are cheating yourself on getting a ready supply of labor,” he said. “When I was in Massachusetts, we had a great hospitality and culinary program. We promised to never start classes before Labor Day. When you start college before Labor Day, do not go to those places if you want to get service because we are not going to get it – those kids went back to college.”
While Gueverra’s academic manifesto contains passages like “graduating people who are good thinkers,” it also contains MBA inspired footnotes like “that unless you can deliver, do not make promises.”
His plan is to keep the college small to maintain the personal connection between students and their professors as well as to make sure the institution grows.
“We want to be a campus that is very engaging,” he said. “The larger you get, the more difficult it is to become that. People get lost in larger systems.”
He wants FKCC students to have an advantage when applying for a job, not simply because they are local, but because they can “run circles around the others,” and when prospective employers see FKCC on their resume and realize that FKCC alumni not only met expectations, but exceeded them.
Gueverra and his wife, Josephine, left two grown daughters in the northeast but will make Big Pine their new island home with their son, Julius, 12, who is already clamoring for a boat.
“We can probably rent or lease one, and that will be fine,” quipped the new president.♦ End