WATERVILLE — Over the past 18 months, Melik Peter Khoury, the president and CEO of Unity College, has faced challenging decisions.

Not only has the coronavirus pandemic upended the world, but the college itself has faced a transformation.

“How can you be innovative if you’re doing things people have already done?” Khoury asked the audience rhetorically Thursday during an appearance at a leadership luncheon cohosted by the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and KV Connect at Amici’s Cucina, an Italian restaurant in downtown Waterville.

Melik Peter Khoury, president and CEO of Unity College. Contributed photo

Unity College has transformed and grown recently under its Path Forward plan, abandoning its two-semester approach in favor of a hybrid model.

The college’s expanded virtual offerings led to an enrollment increase, with 700 more students taking undergraduate courses this year compared to last year.

When introducing Khoury on Thursday, Kim Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, described him as an “energetic visionary.”

The college’s transition to a new academic calendar saw it go from a traditional semester schedule to eight five-week terms. Recently, the college announced its launch of an environmental education program in the form of a technical institute at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

Khoury said the pandemic “hurt but didn’t cripple” the college. Had the pandemic happened three years earlier, he said he was not sure the college would have survived. And had it happened three years later, he was not sure anyone would have noticed a difference at the campus at 90 Quaker Hill Road. The changes were coming.

During Khoury’s 30-minute presentation, titled “Innovative Leadership for Uncertain Times,” he dove into his upbringing and leadership style. A native of Sierra Leone, Khoury lived in The Gambia and the United Kingdom before enrolling at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

“Of all the places I’ve lived in the world, I’ve never been a part of a community as hospitable as Fort Kent,” said Khoury, adding he hopes to retire one day to the St. John Valley, which runs about 92 miles along Maine’s shared border with Canadian provinces Quebec and New Brunswick.

Khoury said he worked at colleges in New York, Missouri and Iowa before coming to Unity College, where he has been president since 2015.

As a leader, Khoury said he defines role, scope and authority in communications as methods of advancement, instead of simply utilizing straight-up votes. As a school focused on environmental matters and science, he said, Unity and its administration must be adaptable and resilient.

“You have to go from consensus to engagement,” Khoury said, “and that’s a foreign concept in our industry.”

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