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Keith Wood Interview


Photos with Principal Keith Wood and students


"I want to offer words of encouragement to anyone who is
on the fence about taking courses at a community college."

What was it like being a first-generation college student?

I don’t consider myself to be a first-generation college student. I vividly remember attending classes at Triton College with my mother when I was about 8 years old. At the time, I didn’t quite realize what she was doing or why she was doing it, but I remember sitting outside the room playing or reading and trying not to be a distraction while she went to adult school. In a way, these early experiences prepared me for future success. My family did not talk about school or the purpose of education beyond behaving and getting decent grades. When I eventually attended a community college, I pretty much had to figure things out on my own, but I think the experience of watching my mother study and attend classes as a young mother helped me see a world I did not know existed.

How do you view community colleges as being institutions that provide equitable opportunities for students pursuing a postsecondary education?

I’m currently a middle school principal and our goal is to prepare students for future success. Many of the students I work with have limited resources that negatively impact their ability to attend four-year institutions after graduating from high school. As we know, college tuition continues to increase each passing year. Community colleges promote access for students who need it the most by making them financially accessible. One way is access via proximity. Community colleges tend to be closer and accessible by public transportation, making it easier for students to attend. Additionally, many students do not have a college savings plan or the means to afford tuition, fees, room and board, and other fees associated with attending a four-year program. The reduced costs and proximity to campus makes it much more accessible for many students. This way they do not have to burden themselves with a mountain of debt while figuring out the path they want to take for their career.

Who were some individuals at your community college that helped shape your success?

I graduated from Jefferson Community College in Watertown, New York, back in 1992, so my recollection of specific individuals is extremely hazy. But I can say everyone I encountered was extremely supportive and accessible during my time there. I was also involved in extracurricular clubs and started the school's first African-Latin Society student-run club. The administration was extremely supportive of the club, providing resources and access to spaces to hold club meetings. I always felt welcome and as if I belonged.

How did your learning and experiences at a community college lead to your further course of study and current career?

Honestly, the experiences at Jefferson Community College were pivotal in my development. I grew up not really understanding the purpose of schools and pretty much just showed up because that’s where I was supposed to be. After a stint in the Army, I realized there had to be something more to education. When I first enrolled I had to take pass/fail classes because my high school transcripts were not strong enough for me to take real classes right off the bat. Fortunately, I did well and was able to take on a real course load, which led to me consistently making the dean's list and obtaining my Associate in Business degree. This early collegiate success primed the pump for me to transfer to the University of Illinois Chicago, where I obtained a B.A in education and an M.A. in school administration. I eventually earned a doctorate in education at Loyola. These accomplishments and my current position as the principal of Brooks Middle School in Valley View Community Unit School District 365U would not have been possible if it were not for my initial experiences at Jefferson Community College.

Tell us something fun about yourself outside of work and education.

I love to travel and never pass up opportunities to travel internationally. So far I’ve traveled to Germany, Aruba, Mexico, and Belize. I also enjoy motorcycling and have taken many long-distance rides across the United States.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to offer words of encouragement to anyone who is on the fence about taking courses at a community college. It doesn’t matter if you are a recent high school graduate or an adult who wants to enter the workforce in another industry, or if you want to learn a new hobby or skill. Community colleges open doors to a world of possibilities. Also, get involved. There are many clubs and service organizations that can promote networking and your personal and professional development. Take advantage of all that community colleges have to offer!

Read the previous Community College Spotlight on H.M. Kuneyl.