In Pursuit of Excellence
When Johnson County Community College president Terry Calaway announced his retirement in October 2012, it was a given that his successor would need some dynamic credentials.
After an intense nationwide search that resulted in three final candidates, the JCCC Board of Trustees found the college’s new president in its single internal candidate: Joseph M. Sopcich.
No stranger to JCCC, Sopcich has been with the esteemed community college since 1992, serving as executive director of institutional advancement, vice president of institutional advancement and government affairs, executive vice president of administrative services, and executive vice president/chief financial officer.
On June 1, 2013, Sopcich took the helm of one of the top community colleges in the country.
“It’s a great honor to be put in this position,” says Sopcich. “The college really is one of the finest assets of this county. I look forward to serving the community to the best that I possibly can.”
Calaway, who will remain in a consulting capacity for the foreseeable future, said the board made an outstanding selection.
“Dr. Sopcich is a man of heart and integrity and will be a true superstar as the next president/CEO of Johnson County Community College,” said Calaway. “Joe’s experience inside and outside the classroom has prepared him well for this role; he certainly will extend and expand our tradition of excellence.”
Meet JCCC’s President
An early riser who runs four times a week, Sopcich demonstrates a drive and dedication that is mirrored in both his professional and personal pursuits alike.
His background is an illustrious one framed by undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Notre Dame, time spent in Chicago working for world-class advertising agency Leo Burnett Company, and a Ph.D. in higher education administration/leadership earned in 2005 from the University of Kansas, when he was 50.
Yet for all his impressive accomplishments, this Independence, Mo., native remains a genuinely approachable guy whose energy and passion for quality education are unmistakable.
It’s these qualities that have helped him cement a solid connection with JCCC, a community college with more than 50 degree and certificate programs that serves more than 50,000 students enrolled in credit and continuing education classes each semester.
In fact, since 2006, Sopcich has taught an evening Intro to Business class at JCCC.
“Teaching this class has really given me great insight into our students,” says Sopcich. “With an evening class, the students are a little bit older, they work all day, they get off at 5, are in class by 6 and stay until 9.”
He says JCCC students — of which the average age is 26 — exemplify what differentiates a community college from a four-year college.
“We’re a place where people come with great hopes,” says Sopcich. “And they have very immediate hopes. Hopes of getting a different job, or moving up to a supervisor position so they can make better money and be a better provider for their family. They want to demonstrate to their own children the value of education. They come here to improve themselves and pursue their dreams.”
Putting Rumors To Rest
Understanding JCCC’s overriding mission sheds light on why Sopcich says the college has no plans to deviate from its community college status.
“This rumor has been around for at least 20 years — probably longer,” says Sopcich. “But there’s no truth in it. JCCC will never become a four-year school. That’s not our mission.”
As a comprehensive community college, he says the school has far more flexibility than four-year institutions when it comes to responding to community needs.
“We’re able to consider programs and training that will help the community respond to the opportunities that come our way,” says Sopcich. “We’re also able to offer open access to education to everyone in the community.”
Sopcich points to the new 440-acre BNSF Intermodal Facility and surrounding logistics park currently under construction in Edgerton, Kan., as one such example of JCCC addressing a local need.
JCCC’s Center for Business and Technology will help provide training solutions in the areas of logistics and supply chain management, as well as supervisory skills.
The school also seeks to serve students with cutting-edge educational programs.
The new Hospitality and Culinary Academy, which Sopcich calls a “game changer” for the school, will open this fall and signifies another exciting chapter for JCCC.
Additionally, the Carlsen Center and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art serve as prominent venues for diverse entertainment locally and in the greater Kansas City area.
“We are very proud of being a comprehensive community college,” says Sopcich. “Our mission is to serve the community and we do so by offering the courses that we do and the various services that we do. We are all so committed to our mission, and that’s why we don’t want to change. Because that’s what we believe in.”
A Bright Horizon
“One Community, One College, One Goal.”
This was Sopcich’s mantra when he was interviewing for the position of president. And this mindset is what will drive his actions going forward.
“We need to envision a community college that serves our community needs,” says Sopcich. “And then we need to pursue this vision in the most accountable and transparent manner possible.”
Above all, Sopcich says the support of JCCC’s elected Board of Trustees, the school’s exemplary faculty, its outstanding staff and a community that wholeheartedly supports education are instrumental to the school’s success.
“Whatever the challenges, we have a great team in place to overcome them,” says Sopcich.
Beyond school walls, Sopcich savors spending time with his wife of 26 years, Stacy; son Eli, who works in New York City; daughter Kate, who attends the University of Kansas; his parents, who reside in Lee’s Summit, Mo.; and two older sisters.
He also enjoys running 5Ks, keeping close tabs on Notre Dame football and, on rare occasions, relaxing at the family’s lake cabin south of Lawrence, Kan.
“My primary interest will always be family,” says Sopcich, who these days especially gets a kick out of watching daughter Kate play cello and keyboards in the local band She’s a Keeper.
But also near and dear to this William Chrisman graduate’s heart is a school that he has watched steadily evolve over two decades into a vibrant, multi-faceted, multi-cultural community treasure.
As he leads JCCC forward, Sopcich’s plan is fundamental at its core: “You work as hard as you can and you give it your best shot. I’m surrounded by great people and I’m following a solid legacy.”
Oh, and that Intro to Business class he’s been teaching?
“I’m going to continue to teach it,” says Sopcich. “I’m committed to it.”
photos: Susan McSpadden