FAIRFIELD — On Monday, a new era began at Kennebec Valley Community College, where former World Bank education specialist Richard Hopper spent his first day as president.

Hopper succeeds longtime college President Barbara Woodlee, who retired Friday after 30 years on the job. Woodlee will continue to work as the Maine Community College System’s part-time academic officer.

Hopper said he spent a month preparing for his first day on the job by meeting with various college employees. Of 268 employees, he said, he has met with 105, and plans to meet with each of the remaining 163 over time.

That preparation, and the welcoming presence of the staff have helped to relieve the stress that ordinarily comes with the first day of work for a new employer, he said.

“I’ve seen it all,” he said. “It’s pretty overwhelming, and that’s why I’m glad I had a month.”

Hopper, 49, who grew up in Connecticut, is a Fulbright scholar and earned a doctorate in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

During 13 years with the World Bank, Hopper has given guidance to governments and higher education institutions around the world.

Hopper began his first day with a four-hour meeting with executive staff at the college, where he said they “covered the whole universe” of the college’s business. “They were very welcoming, and very frank,” he said.

After a lunch that was open to the entire campus, he spent much of the afternoon doing things like setting up email accounts, getting keys to the buildings, and filling out employment papers, he said.

Hopper said he is excited by the college’s strengths, and cited programs such as culinary arts, agriculture and alternative energies, among others.

“I’ve just been impressed from top to bottom,” he said.

Between now and commencement on May 18, Hopper said, he plans to meet as many of the graduating students as he can. After commencement, he plans to begin focusing on the community surrounding the campus, particularly employers who are likely to hire college graduates.

Woodlee first announced her retirement in 2010, but it took three national searches to identify a successor.

Jon Humphrey, college spokesman, said Woodlee’s final act as campus president was delivering a keynote address at an awards ceremony of the National Society of Leadership and Success on Friday evening, during which students and staff won awards.

Woodlee drew multiple standing ovations from the crowd, which Humphrey estimated to be 100 people, and was herself honored with an honorary membership award, he said.

The college is in the midst of establishing a second campus, known as the Harold Alfond Campus, on 700 acres it acquired from Good Will-Hinckley on U.S. Route 201. Good Will-Hinckley, a residential school founded in 1889, closed in 2009 and re-opened as the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in September 2011.

Hopper is living in Waterville, and plans to move into a house on the new campus, once it is completed.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com