Community honors Norco College president with a big send-off
By Chris Levister –
When colleagues describe Dr. Brenda Davis as a “renaissance woman” and a “visionary leader”, they’re not exaggerating.
The Norco College president was hired by the Riverside City College District (RCCD) 33 years ago as a nursing instructor.
When she arrived at the Norco campus in 1993 the institution had four buildings and a “lukewarm” reputation in the community. In 2006 she was appointed the school’s first president. Last fall, the campus became the 112th independent accredited community college in California.
“For many people, the school was thought of as high school for budding cowboys” said Larry Rice wearing a large black western hat, a true display of the “horse town’s” fun and cordial nature. “She rolled into to this laid back community like electricity on wheels.”
“She transformed the campus into an academic success story and in doing so she changed an entire community,” added Melanie Rice who worked with Davis at the RCCD Foundation.
The first classrooms were makeshift, with dividers carving up a large open space. Today the institution is a fully accredited two-year associate granting college with a technology center, theater, state of the art library, and much more. Five buildings will be modernized to create addi t ional classrooms. Math, computer and English labs, currently scattered about campus, will be moved to the library. Last fall, the $17.7 million Center for Student Success opened. It includes student services offices and a cafeteria.
The college has a steady enrollment of 10,000 students. This year the institution awarded 750 degrees and over 250 program certificates.
More than 250 invited colleagues, friends, community leaders and residents came to Norco’s Nellie Weaver Hall Saturday to honor, praise and roast Davis.
“She was destined to become a standout administrator,” said Davis’ younger sister Diane who traveled from New York for the occasion. “She was always the studious kid who never met a stranger.”
She was a gentle energetic kid growing up in Alabama, before moving to Brooklyn, New York where she attended Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, recalled Davis’ uncle Wilbert Taylor. “Make no mistake, she’s petite and very approachable, but, Lord if she’s on a mission -- get on board or get out of the way,” said Taylor with a chuckle.
“Norco College is so much more than we could have hoped for on that March morning in 1991 when we opened our doors to serve the communities of Norco and Corona,” she said.
Eighteen years ago Riverside City College District and the Norco community staked their reputations on Dr. Brenda Davis, said RCCD Chancellor Gregory Gray in his salute.
“They wanted a stable affordable institution accessible to any kid willing to work hard in pursuit of a college education. Is it safe to say they got what they wanted?”
That got the crowd chanting…. “Davis, Davis, Davis.”
Dressed in white and gold Davis told the crowd gaining accreditation for Norco College was her greatest achievement.
“My heartfelt thanks go to the faculty, staff, students, administrators, and community for never forgetting the dream of becoming an independent college within Riverside Community College District.”
Dr. Davis deserves the community’s thanks, several speakers said. She had the vision for many of the college upgrades and new programs, and she knew the right people to motivate to bring the vision to a reality, said Janet Green, chairman of the RCCD board of trustees.
She has always been community-centered, said Norco Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Bash. “She is as much at home with horse ranchers as she is selling the virtues of Norco College to business and civic leaders. She kept the college in “forward motion” and did it in a fiscally conservative way,” he said.
Davis holds a doctorate of educat ion degree in curriculum and teaching from Columbia University in New York City.
Before becoming president of Norco College, Davis worked as a registered nurse in New York, Virginia and California. She also held different positions at several colleges around the country.
Davis received national recognition when she proved through research that the first American nursing program to be established within a university was actually at the Howard University Department of Medicine in 1893 rather than the college-affiliated nursing program at the Universi ty of Minnesota in 1909.
I will miss Norco College, she said. “I plan to refocus my attention to visiting family and spending time reading all the books and articles that I have wanted to read but didn’t have the time.”
Davis leaves on a high note. In May, she brought in the legendary musician Stevie Wonder to lift her students. Most recently she attended a luncheon for First Lady Michelle Obama.
A student government group presented Davis with a proclamation naming the Center for Student Success after Drs. Brenda and William Davis. Dr. ‘Bill’ Davis a retired physician passed away in 2009 at 74.
“He was my rock,” Davis said tearing up. He gladly wore the title of “Norco College’s First Gentleman”. “For more than 30 years Bill served as a student mentor, math tutor, fundraiser and “bank” for my pet education projects. I am pleased to accept this honor on behalf of Norco’s biggest cheerleader.”
Davis received an array of mementos, state and local proclamations, including a video thank you from faculty, students and staff. Chancellor Gray presented her with an engraved crystal vase from the District. She officially retires June 30.
Hers was a career of “Fond Remembrances and Bittersweet Goodbyes” wrote Norco College poet laureate Michael Cluff: “…..A leader needs the grace to pull together the whirling kaleidoscope in a fused, colorful whole with a pulse and prescience to allow each thread to still be its own - she has done that, in a soft, satin way.”
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