The Palm Beach State College District Board of Trustees culminated a six-month national search process Wednesday, unanimously choosing Ava L. Parker, J.D., to become the first female president of Palm Beach State College.
Parker, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Florida Polytechnic University, was one of four finalists who met with the board Wednesday, each making a case for being the best fit to lead the largest institution of higher education in Palm Beach County.
Parker said she was drawn to PBSC’s strong foundation and history of excellence. “The quality of the programs and the commitment of the academic and administrative teams are apparent in the success of this institution,” she stated. “The College is poised for innovative strategies that support economic development, it is located in a growing, diverse region, and it is expanding its footprint. We will do great things together.”
Parker joined Florida Polytechnic University in 2012 to lead the development of the state’s newest university, which focuses on research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. As the school’s first administrator, she was responsible for developing strategy, implementing the vision, building the team, and opening the new campus for its inaugural class last fall. She formerly served on the Board of Governors of the State University System for 10 years, including as chair, and she is a partner with the Jacksonville law firm of Lawrence & Parker.
A third-generation Floridian, she earned her Juris Doctor degree and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism, both from the University of Florida.
Carolyn L. Williams, trustee and co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee, said interest in the position was intense, with 161 applications received from throughout the U.S. and abroad.
“From the earliest stages of the search, we recognized that there would be many outstanding candidates,” Williams said. “Our goal was to identify that individual whose experience and qualifications most closely met the needs of the College and the communities it serves. We believe that Dr. Parker’s background, skills and passion for student success make her uniquely qualified to lead the College, and we are looking forward to working with her.”
Contract negotiations will begin immediately, and Parker is expected to start by July 1. She will succeed Dr. Dennis Gallon, who is retiring June 30 after 18 years as Palm Beach State’s fourth president.
The presidential search was launched last fall, with community forums held at each PBSC campus to gather input for the search profile. Earlier this week, forums were again held on each campus to introduce the finalists to faculty, staff, students and the community. In addition to Parker, the finalists included James D. Henningsen, Ed.D., president of the College of Central Florida; Joseph A. Sarnovsky, Ed.D., executive vice president and chief financial officer of Seminole State College of Florida; and G. Devin Stephenson, Ed.D., chief executive officer of Summit Higher Education Consulting.
Williams and board vice chairperson Wendy S. Link co-chaired the 15-member Presidential Search Committee representing community, education and business leaders and PBSC faculty, staff and students. The committee conducted initial interviews of top candidates by videoconference before naming the final four candidates.
“Each of the four finalists is a distinguished leader with a proven track record of success in higher education,” said Link. “We greatly appreciate the search committee’s commitment and diligent work to identify these exceptional candidates in a very large field.”
Student trustee Patricia Medina, who served on that search committee, said she was excited about the board’s selection of Parker. “I like that she started Florida Polytechnic University from its inception, and I like that she will be making history at our College,” Medina said.