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Community college education is not only a job for GCC's newly-named president. For Dr. James Sunser, it's a way of life.

Sunser was unanimously voted President of Genesee Community College last night by the college's Board of Trustees. And when "Jim" starts work in August, he'll be kicking off his 24th year of dedicated service to a community college;his 28th year working in college education; and his 32nd year involved in college education, after having attended a community college himself as a young man.

But it all started for Sunser as a child, when his father urged him and his sisters to get as much education as they could.

"Our parents ingrained in us from an early age that getting an education is really a big part of the American dream," Sunser told WBTA today in an exclusive interview. "I was a first generation college student. My sisters and I were the first generation in our family to go."

Sunser says that experience alone was enough to push him to work in education for the rest of his life, and see other people live that dream. "It's very natural for me to be in (education)," he says.

For the past 23 years, Sunser has worked at his alma mater, Onondaga Community College, ascending to the position of Vice-President for Continued & Extended Learning in 2004. During that time, he oversaw the the construction of the Whitney Applied Technology Center, the addition of residence halls for 600 students, the creation of a Center for Workforce Development, and the development of new degree programs in Nuclear Technology, Sustainability, and Overhead Lineman Studies.

Sunse, therefore, should fit right in at GCC, which just built a new art gallery and added a technology wing several years ago, in addition to the expansion of the College Village dormitories. GCC also operates the Business & Employee Skills Training (B.E.S.T.) Center, and has just recently added new degree programs in Veterinary Technology and Polysomnography - the study of sleep disorders.

"GCC really has an outstanding reputation in all the SUNY system - and nationally, too," says Sunser. "Dr. Stuart Steiner, the Board of Trustees, the whole faculty and staff and administrative team...they're really among the best that I've ever had the chance to come across."

Sunser also took the time to praise Dr. Stuart Steiner, whose job he'll be taking over in August. Steiner has been GCC's president for the past 36 years. "He is absolutely an icon in SUNY," says Sunser. "What he's done has been fantastic."

Perhaps the deciding factor in Sunser’s hiring was his connections in Albany – GCC Board Chairman Charles Ruffino tells us that Sunser sits on several influential committees for education. Ruffino says that will make Sunser's learning curve at GCC much more gradual.

Sunser believes those connections can only help GCC in the long run. He points to the increasing regulations and mandates on community colleges as an example. "We have to work through that and make sure we stay compliant," he says, "but also make sure that we're keeping students and their success at the forefront.

"Having worked with a number of people in Albany and with other presidents within the SUNY system, I think it gives me a real advantage,"
Sunser continues. "I think I'll be readily admitted into a fraternity of good folks, who all have the students and the institutions at the core of what they value."

Sunser will begin work at GCC on August 1st. Until then, he's searching for a home in the area for him and his wife, Roseann - who is also an educator. The couple has three children together, who "are mostly grown," according to Sunser. "Our youngest is 17, just graduated from high school, and he's currently planning to go to Onondaga - unless I can convince him to change his mind and come to Genesee with us," Sunser says with a chuckle.

Sunser will have one month of overlap with Dr. Stuart Steiner, during which he'll learn all he can from the outgoing president. "I look forward to having the chance to work with him," Sunser says, "and to hopefully do a good job of continuing the great traditions at Genesee.

"I'm looking forward to becoming a part of the community." 

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