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Former Westchester Community College President Joseph Hankin Dies

Dr. Joseph Hankin
Dr. Joseph Hankin Photo Credit: File photo

Former Westchester Community College President Joseph N. Hankin, who was one of the nation’s longest-serving community college presidents has died at the age of 78.

The college announced Thursday, Jan. 17 that Hankin died on Wednesday, Jan. 16. He first took over at the college in 1971 and served 42 years at the helm until his retirement in 2013.

Hankin was a significant member of the team that expanded the Westchester Community College Foundation, which has raised substantial resources in support of faculty and staff. Millions were raised for student scholarships with approximately $2 million now distributed annually.

Additionally, the enrichment of many academic programs and the development of infrastructure improvements were largely the result of Foundation funds. The growth and evolution of the Foundation has been critical to the success and expansion of the institution.

Current WCC President Belinda Miles said that “assuming the mantle of one of the most admired community college presidents presented a unique opportunity to extend his legacy of service to students and community.”

“He made monumental contributions to the community college field as our institutions became increasingly important pathways to high-quality and affordable higher education, and he did it with an exceptional team of faculty and staff who cared deeply about the college and surrounding community,” she added.

Westchester Community College was Hankin’s second college presidency. In 1967, at the age of 26, he was the nation’s youngest college president when he assumed the role at Harford Community College in Maryland. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in social science from City College and his master of arts in history and doctor of education degrees from Columbia University.

Upon his arrival in 1971, the transformation of the college was almost immediate. Following through on proposals shared during his interview process, such as opening the campus to the community, expanding academic programs, and repairing infrastructure, he immediately moved forward to begin a bold growth agenda. Although relatively new to the role of president, he began his four-decade mission toward a commitment to quality, accessibility, affordability, and expansion.

According to the college, “One can see the tremendous impact Dr. Hankin has had by looking at his final decade in his role as president. In addition to opening several new extension centers during this time, he oversaw the expansion of the Harold L. Drimmer Library and Learning Resource Center, which doubled in size. He opened the Gateway Center, a 70,000-square-foot landmark structure designed by the renowned Ennead architectural firm to provide educational resources for thousands of students.

The  Gateway Center is Westchester County’s first LEED-certified building and an iconic entry point for the county’s diverse, multinational community. During the same period, the college expanded its online learning options, added a dozen new academic programs, and instituted the Collegium, a resource for mature learners interested in serious study and social exchange. Simultaneously, the college reached record enrollment figures for both credit and non-credit study, more than doubling the numbers from 5,800 students early in his tenure.

In 1986, a project sponsored by the Exxon Educational Foundation named Dr. Hankin one of the Hundred Most Effective College Presidents of two-year and four-year colleges and universities. In 1988, the University of Texas included Dr. Hankin among the 50 best community college presidents, for which he earned the Thomas J. Peters Award for Leadership Excellence.

“Dr. Hankin recognized that community support was vital to student success, and he took a leadership role in the founding of the Westchester Community College Foundation, supporting its development for over forty years,” Westchester Community College Foundation Board of Directors Chair Susan Yubas said. “His partnership through multiple major fundraising campaigns and commitment to providing students with scholarship opportunities contributed to the growth of the Westchester Community College Foundation, which is now recognized nationally. The Foundation is indebted to his extraordinary legacy of leadership.”

College Board of Trustees Chair John Nonna added, “Dr. Joe Hankin shepherded Westchester Community College from its infancy through its growth to the stature it enjoys today as one of the nation’s premier community colleges. His vision continues to guide us, and his contributions will never be forgotten. Together with the entire college community, the Board of Trustees mourns his passing.”

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said that he met Hankin when he was a student attending meetings of the Board of Legislator. He has served as an adjunct professor at WCC for five years and said that “every time (he) drives around the college, he reflects on the positive role Hankin played in making the college a great place for students to learn.”

“During Dr. Hankin’s tenure the college became one of the nation’s leading educational institutions,” he said. “Dr. Hankin opened the campus to the community, expanded academic programs, addressed infrastructure issues. He was committed to quality, affordable education.

Dr. Hankin expanded opportunities for professors both full-time and part-time to expand their professional developments.  He initiated academic support systems for students –enhancing classroom successes.”

Hankin is survived by his wife, Dr. Carole Hankin, three children, and his grandchildren. A spring memorial in Dr. Hankin’s honor is being planned. Meanwhile, gifts in Dr. Hankin’s memory may be made to the Joseph N. Hankin Endowed Scholarship Fund at the Westchester Community College Foundation, Westchester Community College, 75 Grasslands Road, Valhalla, New York, 10595.

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