After three days of open forums, faculty, staff and residents listened to the final presidential candidate Thursday at Southeast Arkansas College’s Welcome Center. Reflecting on his journey in higher education, Paul Hutchins elaborated on prior experience and work ethic that he felt prepared him for the job of SEARK’s next president.

“I’m the kind of person that wants to push you forward,” Hutchins said. “I’m going to want you to be excellent in all that you do. I’m going to try and model the kind of behaviors that I want you to embody.”

Hutchins is the president of Sampson Community College in North Carolina. He is the former dean of educational centers and economic development at Sante Fe College in Florida.

“I’ve enjoyed being a president,” Hutchins said. “It’s one of the most rewarding and fantastic things anyone can do in higher education. It’s been great.”

Hutchins received his bachelor of arts in education from the University of Florida, a master of arts in adult education from the University of South Florida and a doctorate of higher education administration from the University of Florida.

Although he graduated from the University of Florida, Hutchins says his two years at Sante Fe College changed his life.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got to Sante Fe Community College,” Hutchins said, adding that his parents were in education. But it was in a biology class, a teacher somehow reached out and touched me and made me decide that I want to be an educator. Sante Fe Community College will always have a place in my heart, because it made the difference in my life and for that I will forever be grateful.”

Following current SEARK President Stephen Hilterbran’s announcement to retire on Dec. 31, 2017, the college began a nationwide search for his replacement soon after. SEARK contracted the Association of Community College Trustees in the summer to help them build a profile to draw potential candidates. Out of the 58 applicants, Marlon Mitchell, Kaleybra Morehead, Steven Bloomberg and Hutchins remain in the running for president.

“When I looked at the ad for presidency here at SEARK, I saw some things that we very attractive to me,” Hutchins said. “One of the things that really drew my interest was the opportunity to come here and work closely not just with the faculty and staff here at the college, but with the community to help the community move forward (and) get back to where Pine Bluff wants to be.”

As a part of the open forum, Hutchins answered anonymous questions from the crowd in reference to financial management, areas of engagement, remediation, student and staff support, enrollment, economic growth and leadership and management style among other topics.

“If you want to know about my leadership style, I can sum it up in two words: trust and collaboration,” he said. “Shared governance — that’s the model that I lived with at Sante Fe, and that’s the model that I took with me to North Carolina Community College System.”

If selected president, Hutchins said his mission in the first two months of his appointment would be to meet with the entire faculty, staff and students, as well as visit with the members of the local business industry. Additionally, he talked about devising a strategy to improve not only the college’s student experience, but also the faculty as it relates to engagement and enrichment.

“I want to find out what are our strengths and weaknesses here, and that’s what your strengths and weaknesses are,” he said. “What do you do great? What are some things that maybe you don’t do so great, and let’s develop some professional and staff development to help you become stronger in the areas you might need refining in.”

Hutchins also discussed his ideas to tackle a five-year strategic plan, which included a review of beneficial and non-beneficial programs currently at SEARK, ways to boost enrollment, initiatives to support students and ties to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“I don’t know how strong a partnership the college has with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, but that would be one of the first places I visit if I come here to be your president,” he said. “What are some things we can partner with them to help this community grow, thrive and be more is something that’s very, very important to me.”

Feedback forms were provided to those in attendance, which will be given to the Board of Trustees for further review as a part of the presidential search process.

Residents are encouraged to contact the ACCT if they have any questions and suggestions.

For more information contact:

• Narcisa Polonio, Executive Vice President for Education, Research and Board Leadership Services,, 202-276-1983 (mobile).

• Julie Golder, Board Services Coordinator,, 202-384-5816 (mobile).