Presidential Semifinalists Selected—Possible Battle Brews Between Candidates With Strong MDC Ties

A battle for Miami Dade College’s top post possibly looms between two candidates with close ties to the school after the presidential search committee selected eight semifinalists Wednesday afternoon. 

Among the semifinalists: Madeline Pumariega, the executive vice president and provost at Tallahassee Community College. She was born and raised in Hialeah and is a graduate of MDC, where she worked for more than 20 years.

If Pumariega, who was inducted into the MDC Alumni Hall of Fame in 2018, makes it to the list of finalists, she would face Executive Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio, the lone holdover from the original presidential search last year.

Rodicio has been at the College for more than 18 years, including stints as a professor, department chairperson, dean, project director and vice-provost. She’s been at the forefront of MDC’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Other semifinalists are:

  • Carlos Cortez, president of San Diego Continuing Education at San Diego Community College District.
  • Joseph DiSalvo, owner and founder of SPARTAN 68 consulting, LLC.
  • Gregory Fowler, the commissioner and board member of the New England Commission of Higher Education.
  • Junius Gonzales, provost and vice president for academic affairs at New York Institute of Technology.
  • Kenneth Gonzalez, vice provost for student and enrollment services at El Paso Community College.
  • Morgan Phillips, vice chancellor for academic excellence for the Pima Community College District.
  • Irene Rios, the chief officer at SUNY Suffolk.

“I’m really excited about the pool of candidates,” said Nicole Washington, chair of the committee. “I think that the search committee did their due diligence. They really looked at both what the candidates submitted through the paperwork and, as I mentioned in the meeting, offline research. I was really impressed with the level of discussion and the effort that they put in a ranking and the candidates that came out.”

The semifinalists list was cut down from 78 applicants. It includes candidates with heavy academic backgrounds from places such as Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and New York, and one candidateDiSalvo—with a military background.

Candidates were chosen based on their leadership qualities, ability to manage a large and complex institution like MDC, past achievements and future vision for the College. 

Interviews will be conducted virtually by the 17-member presidential search committee next Thursday and Friday.

Four interviews will be conducted each day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon with the first session starting at 9 a.m. Each candidate will be asked 12 questions and five minutes will be allotted for each response.

At the conclusion, the search committee will recommend a list of four to five finalists. 

Pumariega, who was the last candidate to apply, made the biggest impression on the presidential search committee. Fifteen members of the committee voted her among their top five candidates prior to the meeting, earning her a direct spot on next week’s interviews. 

Fowler, who received a top five vote from 10 committee members, and Cortez, who was in the top five pick of eight members, also earned interviews next week at the start of Wednesday’s meeting. 

The other five semifinalists were selected after more than 90 minutes of discussion about the candidates led by Roderick McDavis, the managing principal of the headhunter firm AGB Search.

Pumariega worked at MDC from 1992 to 2013, including stints as an academic advisor and adjunct faculty at Kendall Campus, dean of students at Wolfson Campus and dean of students and administration at Medical Campus.

In 2011, she was promoted to Wolfson Campus president. She served in that capacity for two years and played an integral role in expanding the Culinary Institute and launching The Idea Center. 

In 2013, Pumariega became the president and chief executive officer of the non-profit Take Stock in Children. Two years later, she was selected as the Chancellor of the Florida College System where she served for three years.

She has held her post as executive vice president and provost at Tallahassee Community College for the past year and a half.  

The search to find Eduardo J. Padrón’s successor has been a long one. Padrón announced in February of 2019 that he would be stepping down as College president. He left office on August 30 of that year, after nearly 50 years at MDC, including more than 24 of them as president.

Diversified Search was hired to help the College find Padrón’s replacement during the first search. After five months of searching, the Board of Trustees rebooted the process after interviewing four finalists in July of 2019. 

Trustees cited a need for a wider and more diverse pool of candidates, keeping Rodicio as the only finalist from the previous search. 

Two months later, retired long-time MDC administrator Rolando Montoya was selected as interim president and the College hired a new headhunter firm, AGB Search. 

They were on track to select a new president by May of 2020, but extended the priority consideration deadline to Oct. 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

After the semifinalists are interviewed next week, finalists will visit the College on Nov. 12-13, make presentations to the MDC community and they will be interviewed by the BOT. 

If all goes as planned, the Board will announce MDC’s fifth permanent president on Nov. 17.

Elizabeth Ramsay, president of the United Faculty of MDC, said she was satisfied with the way today’s meeting was handled but that she would remain vigilant of the process.

“We were obviously not happy with the way the last search went and were disappointed to see that the Board of Trustees had increased their own numbers and reduced the number of faculty on the committee,” Ramsay said. “But our faculty who are appointed to the committee were quite vocal and we were pleased that they spoke up. We’re hopeful that this time it will be a completely fair and transparent process.” 

Staff writer Jose Tovar contributed to this report.

Presidential search timeline.