When Richard Hopper came to Kennebec Valley Community College eight years ago as its new president, he was known as a World Bank education specialist and a Fulbright scholar.

Hopper is leaving the president’s post at KVCC at the end of this month, after being awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in Ukraine. He will be working with the Ukrainian government to adjust the country’s system for accreditation in higher education.

Typically, the program would be done from Ukraine, but with the pandemic, he will start work remotely, and there are tentative plans for him to travel there in the fall.  

Reflecting on his time at KVCC, Hopper said Tuesday he feels the community has always supported the college and understood its value.

“I feel really grateful to the people of mid-Maine,” Hopper said. “I love this community — I love the people in this area, the small business owners, all the local government folks — everyone has been so welcoming and they all really understand the purpose of community colleges and the need for what we do with students and our graduates and how important they are to the labor market and workforce development.”

KVCC has two campuses, one in Fairfield and one in Hinckley, and serves around 2,500 students. It offers over 30 programs with a variety of focuses including electrical lineworker technology, occupational therapy and sustainable construction.  

Last year Hopper oversaw KVCC as it pivoted to account for the pandemic. The problem was very different than the dilemmas faced by liberal arts colleges, Hopper said because so much of KVCC’s programming is hands-on. 

Nonetheless, the school shifted to a hybrid model — moving everything possible online — and began last fall with 73% of instruction done remotely, according to a column Hopper wrote in March. KVCC refused to slow down and continued normal business as much as possible. 

“KVCC continues to process applications, issue financial aid, and register students for summer and fall courses,” Hopper wrote in the column. “KVCC’s enrollment has fared better than expected and the numbers for fall 2021 are on track.” 

The college also donated protective equipment from the health care programs and ventilators from the respiratory program to local hospitals, and later partnered with Northern Light Inland Hospital to launch a mass vaccination clinic on campus.   

This month KVCC will have 482 students graduate — that’s 104 more than last year — and continues to have the highest numbers of dual and concurrent enrollment of high school students in the state, around 1,700.  

The school even opened a state-of-the-art welding lab this year and a specialized heat pump lab. Hopper said it isn’t uncommon for people to come to campus and be shocked at the quality of spaces and education.  

“I’m so happy people are pleased with the space — I wish on some level that there wasn’t so much surprise that the college is as nice as it is,” Hopper said. “People say ‘This is such a well-kept secret’ and I think that’s really the frustration, we don’t want it to be a secret, we want everyone to realize this is high-quality education.” 

President Richard Hopper speaks during Kennebec Valley Community College graduation on May 21, 2016, at the Augusta Civic Center. Hopper will leave the school at the end of the month. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

After Hopper’s departure, Karen Normandin, KVCC’s vice president of student affairs, enrollment and public relations, will serve as interim president. 

Normandin has worked at KVCC for more than 30 years, was a John T. Gorman Fellow in 2019 and has twice received the President’s Award for her leadership at the college. She will serve as interim president for the 2021-22 academic year, and a search committee for a permanent president will begin in 2022. 

Hopper oversaw extensive progress in his time as president. Maine Community College System Board of Trustees Chair William Cassidy said in a press release that Hopper was a leader in the community college system in advancing student support strategies. 

“From the outset of his tenure, Dr. Hopper worked tirelessly to learn, improve, and advance the college,” Cassidy said. 

Maine Community College System President David Daigler echoed the praise and said that Hopper “kept a steady hand” when facing pandemic challenges. 

“Perhaps most importantly though, Rick was ready to participate thoughtfully in issues of access, support, and opportunity,” Daigler said in a press release. “He cared deeply about those striving to improve their lives through a community college education. We all wish Rick well in his next role as a Fulbright Fellow and in all future endeavors.” 

Hopper said he feels a bit overwhelmed at times thinking of everything the college has done during his time.

“We have really accomplished a lot,” Hopper said. “I am so proud of the team and everything KVCC has achieved — it’s really amazing.” 


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