ELKO – Joyce Helens sees Great Basin College as a pioneer in state history.
Helens, who started as president of GBC Aug. 1, discussed the link to Elko’s past and “pioneering spirit” of higher education in Nevada.
“It all started here in Elko. That’s really the beginning,” Helens said.
She refers to the founding of Nevada State University in 1874 in Elko. Six years later, the school moved to Reno, becoming the University of Nevada.
“Great Basin wasn’t a lone ranger,” she said. “It didn’t come up with ideas by talking to itself, but rather, it was pioneer people who listened to their constituents and let it transform.”
The college plans to honor its past while continuing to transform as GBC prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
This September, GBC will host the first Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents meeting of the academic year.
Helens said she hopes the meeting will convey the energy and excitement of GBC’s founding with some integrative presentations.
The NSHE Board of Regents appointed Helens on April 28 to succeed Dr. Mark Curtis who served five years as president. She was chosen from a pool of 40 applicants.
Helens said she turned down several requests from a recruiter who suggested she look into the position when it became available. At the time, she had no intention of leaving her position as president of St. Cloud Technical & Community College in Minnesota.
“I was planning on being there for a while, but once you make the decision, the whole world changes to move you along to your decision point,” Helens said. “I really appreciate that the consultant hired by the system didn’t take no for an answer the first few times.”
Stepping into her new role is both exciting and humbling, Helens said.
“It feels right to be here,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been here awhile. I haven’t felt like I had to get used to anything.”
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Lynn Mahlberg, vice president of academic and student affairs, met with Helens on her first day at GBC and said she believes Helens is ready for the challenge, thanks to her experience as president at SCTCC.
“She’s hit the ground running, and she brings a great deal of experience to the job,” Mahlberg said.
Part of coming onboard to GBC is getting to know the college, staff and faculty, which means Helens will “ask lots of questions,” she said. “I am a very curious person by nature.”
Becoming acquainted with the history of the college is only one of Helens’ goals. She said she is not interested in making changes for no reason, but for now, is ready “to listen and learn.”
Helens also wants to make sure there is “time to dream.”
“The whole college has to come together and say. ‘We know what’s been; we know what is. What does that next level of excellence look like?’”
Helens said she sees herself as more of a “catalyst” to bring energetic and inspiring individuals together.
“I just have to put this combination of people together, and ‘boom,’ something comes together,” Helens said. “I’ve had a lot of experience … and sometimes, it’s not until you’re in the thick of things that you recognize how things really work.”
In her career, Helens has gained experience in the community college and university systems in five states through leadership positions, administration roles and as an instructor.
The items unpacked in her office tell the story of other classrooms in Helens’ life, including pieces of Native American art given to her by former students and memorabilia from her hobbies of raising Texas Longhorns and Old West re-enactment shooting.
“Everything has a big story to it,” Helens said. “Each one of those things has given me a wider, better, different perspective.”
Angela de Braga, director of continuing education and community outreach, said Helens’ background will be an advantage to the college and that she is looking forward to the semester.
“All kinds of good things are in store,” de Braga said. “President Helens has a lot of great ideas and lots of energy.”
Although she is now president, Helens still remembers being a teacher and what it is like to spark the minds of her students.
“Teaching and learning are a sacred contract to me, and that’s why I’m still a teacher,” she said, “because the dynamics of the classroom and your desire for people to learn, grow and be successful [are] not any different when you’re the president, a dean, a vice president. It’s a different classroom.”