As public relations and marketing spokesperson for New York Transit, communicating news for the bus division that transported seven million passengers a day, Stephen Nacco saw his long-term career prospects heading on a different path — toward higher education.
Nacco traded media for academia, where he rose to top administrative positions at two New Jersey-based community colleges.
His career moved further ahead while enrolled in Rowan’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership: Community College Leadership Initiative (CCLI). “I never wanted to be a community college president until that program,” he said.
Now, Dr. Stephen Nacco uses the skills he learned in his cohort from more than 750 miles away.
As president of Danville Area Community College (DACC), about 2.5 hours south of Chicago, Dr. Nacco leads a school that serves more than 6,100 part-time and full-time students. While the city of Danville has seen its population steadily decline over the years, DACC has seen its enrollment and graduation rates increase — which Dr. Nacco credits to his faculty and board, with whom he has built a collaborative leadership team.
“It’s the coalescing of ideas here, and that to me is what makes working at this college rewarding,” Dr. Nacco said. “Every month we do something — this is straight out of something I learned at Rowan — where a different department comes out with a ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal.’ And it’s got to be out there. It might seem impossible, but you’re going to try to figure out a way to make it work.
“I think collaboratively in a small community college, it’s really a lot of fun to be able to work this way,” he added.
Convenient classes, offered right on the campus in which he worked at the time, initially attracted Dr. Nacco to the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program. Yet the longer he immersed himself in his coursework, the more Stephen felt compelled to seek a community college president position post-grad.
“I was able to study my own leadership and look at leadership theory,” he said. “As I was in the program more and more, I wanted to continue to move up in community colleges … that they’re not ‘junior colleges,’ what they do for workforce development and what they do for turning around lives.”
Dr. Nacco noted Rowan’s teaching faculty included community college presidents, who enhanced the program through their “war stories” and mentorship. He also acknowledged Dr. James Coaxum, associate professor in the College of Education, whom he said had “a style that was calm for people, not just with me, but for many students who were anxious to go back to college.”
After completing the Ed.D. degree part-time in three years, Dr. Nacco ultimately secured the top spot at DACC in 2016. The importance of the job is not lost on him.
“Being in DACC, you can’t imagine how important this college is to this community,” he said.
For future students considering the Ed.D. program, Dr. Nacco offers this advice: “Whatever your niche is, don’t be constrained by that niche. Go into it with the idea with you can be surprised with what you want to do. It doesn’t matter what your job is, if you know what you’re doing is important to the people around you, then it’s a good career. And Rowan can help you get there.”
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