Gale force at work
Not being a superstitious woman, Dr Gale Gibson, a Bajan from Melrose in St Thomas, didn’t think twice about taking up a challenging position on All Fool’s Day.
“No, it didn’t matter that I was to assume duties on April 1,” said the academician, whose early primary school education began at Welches Primary School.
It was on that day of the year when some people wouldn’t even step outside the front door, fearing bad luck would strike, that Gibson took over the reins of office as interim president of Essex County College, a two-year tertiary level school in New Jersey with 28 000 and 30 000 students every year, 15 000 of whom are working towards degrees in more than 70 different subjects.
“I saw it as an important challenge and I was prepared for it,” said the mother of two.
But before she was elevated to that top job, Gibson had served as the County College’s senior vice-president for academic affairs and its chief academic officer beginning in December 2011.
In the 20 months since then, she has accomplished much more than many of her peers in academia are able to single out after years of work. At the top of that impressive list is the school’s ability to regain its accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an academic stamp of approval that if lost, can bring a school to its proverbial knees.
“When I entered Essex County College it was facing some issues with its Middle States accreditation,” she recalled.
“Assessment happened to be one of the areas in which I was well trained at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. I had the knowledge and the experience to come into Essex Country College and really assist them in their degree-programme level. We subsequently received full accreditation. Middle States came back in and said you are meeting [the academic level], continue doing the work you are doing. Middle States gave us a check of good health.”
But the crucial accreditation wasn’t Gibson’s lone achievement.
“We have secured almost US$20 million in grant funds to finance various initiatives at the school,” she explained.
“A college can’t simply depend on state funds to provide an education.”
The Bajan with more than two decades of experience in higher education administration is convinced that a sound education is a road map to a better life, one that “changes the trend in a family for the better”.
She traces the long and arduous road she has travelled to her early years in Barbados and continuing to New York, intersecting with a stint in North Carolina and ultimately returning to New York before going on to New Jersey’s largest city, Newark, the home of Essex County College.
She came to New York from her birthplace in 1978 and later earned a Bachelor’s degree in business and a Master’s in counselling and social sciences from the State University of New York at Binghamton.
After occupying a variety of positions at universities in North Carolina and New York early in her academic career, she joined CUNY’s Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn in 1995 as an assistant professor and assistant director of the freshman year programme. A year later she was promoted to director and the rest, as they say, is history. From assistant dean she moved to associate dean of student support services and by the time she left Medgar Evers College, she was the dean of freshman studies.
“I received considerable support and guidance from Dr Edison Jackson, president of Medgar Evers College,” she said.
“He was a mentor and so was Dr Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X.”
Gibson also credits her Bajan grandmother for pointing her in the direction of a doctorate in education administration that ultimately led to the presidency of Essex County College.
“My grandmother advised me to go get a doctorate and by her questions and answers I decided on administration,” she said.
Gibson lives with her husband and two children in St Albans, Queens, and commutes daily to her office in Newark.