18 THE QUEENS COURIER • SEPTEMBER 13, 2018 FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM
There may not be anyone who knows Queensborough Community College better
than Dr. Diane Bova Call, who retired in August after having served as President
for eight years. Dr. Call’s career at Queensborough began 47 years ago – when
she arrived as an unpaid intern and a Columbia University graduate student - and,
by choice, never left. Here, she discovered her passion for our students, faculty
and staff – and eventually found her professional home. She worked in virtually all
major areas of administration and academics and broke crucial gender barriers as
the College’s first woman Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
as well as Vice President for Finance and Administration.
And, ultimately, as its first woman President.
This past spring, Dr. Call announced she would be retiring at the end of the
summer. In a message to the College community she wrote, “To each of you, I thank
you. Your unwavering commitment to our students and their personal and intellectual
growth will always hold a special place in my heart. You have strengthened our
legacy of a strong and engaged faculty, a student-centered learning environment,
and of our community partnerships that have both served neighborhood organizations
and businesses, and have led to countless educational experiences and career
opportunities for our students.” She thanked all “who have made Queensborough
the finest community college in the country.”
Due to the President’s nearly five decades-long tenure, this announcement was
not entirely unexpected. Still, it was as if a pillar that held up the very foundation
of Queensborough Community College would no longer be here. It is a pillar
bolstered by impressive numbers. Under Dr. Call’s leadership, 80 percent of the
College’s operating budget has gone directly to instructional and student support.
There are more than 400 full-time faculty, 20 percent more than when she was
appointed as President.
Dr. Call was appointed Interim President in 2010 and then President in 2013.
Upon becoming President, she emphasized she would continue to collaborate with
all faculty and staff to strengthen those cornerstones she mentioned in her farewell
message. The data shows that she delivered. Currently, 83 percent of the College’s
faculty hold terminal degrees, three times the national average for community
colleges. Enrollment has reached a record high of over 16,000. Students, who now
have connections to 129 countries and speak 78 languages, work or hold many
internships in New York City for nonprofits, health care providers and businesses.
Dr. Call also made inroads on Long Island, so that the College now has
relationships with more than 200 high schools, colleges, organizations and
businesses in Nassau and Suffolk counties. As a result, enrollment from this area
is at a record high. Annually, more than 100,000 people from the community and
beyond come to events at the College’s renowned Queensborough Performing Arts
Center, QCC Art Gallery and Kupferberg Holocaust Center.
To relate what Dr. Call has meant to Queensborough – and what the College has
meant to her – the division of Marketing & Communications reached out to many
people connected to the College who offered the following tributes. Kip Montgomery,
Associate Professor and Chair of the Music Department, who has worked closely
with the President for a decade, said:
“I feel like I could write a book regarding what Dr. Call has meant to me, to the
Music Department, to our students, and to the College as a whole. Her contributions
to everything we do at Queensborough, most especially how we educate, care for
and nurture our students, have been enormous and truly incalculable in their impact
on the well-being of our community.”
Not that Dr. Call’s presidency was without challenges. No college president
on earth is immune to these. Dr. Call, though, started to learn how to face these
challenges soon after she completed her internship and took her first position as a
College staffer. She had barely begun when her supervising deans were dismissed.
The action she took as a brand-new member of the College staff taught her, she
now says, the value of “listening to your instincts and taking the initiative.” The
lesson served her well as President.
Emily Tai, an associate professor of History, provided perspective on those
challenges college presidents inevitably face. Tai has known Dr. Call for years, as
both a faculty member and an officer of the Academic Senate.
“Sometimes as a faculty governance leader it can seem that our only job is to
disagree with administrators, and make their job difficult,” Tai said. “But, I was always
grateful for the way President Call would seek-and find-areas of common ground,
even with those individuals who might have vexed her the most-as I fear I often did!”
Today Queensborough is nationally recognized for its student-centered learning
environment. When people speak about Dr. Call, they typically mention this and note
that her vision for the Queensborough Academies is the capstone of her impressive
academic career. Under her leadership, the Freshman Academies were expanded to
serve all students, not merely first-year students. Faculty incorporate High Impact
Practices and other nationally recognized pedagogical strategies into the classroom
and Queensborough Academy Advisers intensively advise students, following them
throughout their academic careers here, from admission to graduation, striving to
insure that their courses of study are geared towards their goals and interests. All
Queensborough Academic Advisers are supported by faculty and use technology
and other interventions to ensure student success.
After Dr. Call announced her retirement, CUNY Board of Trustees Chairperson
William C. Thompson, Jr. noted that the President has served as an
“…innovator by establishing educational programs that increase student
success. She has dedicated her career to building Queensborough Community
College into an exemplary part of The City University of New York, for which we
owe her our enduring gratitude.”
This year Dr. Call also appointed a college Advisement Council, headed by
Alexandra Pyak, Program Director of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs
(ASAP). Pyak noted Dr. Call’s “tremendous support and guidance in regard to
advisement…it is one of many examples of her leadership, dedication and vision.”
To this Sandra A. Sacrestano, the Lead of the Liberal Arts Academy, adds that
the Council, which she vice-chairs, “is a place to share ideas, best practices and
challenges we all face in our effort to support student success.”
Indeed, Queensborough was recently named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars.
Queensborough’s students and faculty win many prestigious grants and awards, and
the College’s students excel so notably in undergraduate research that at regional
events they are often mistaken for graduate students. Many now are graduate
students or working in positions that require advanced degrees.
Kay Atanda, (’12), for example, was a Coca-Cola Scholar and Pearson National
Prize recipient while at the College. “Dr. Call’s support throughout my academic career
at Queensborough was instrumental in my success as a student and as a person.
Among other things, she encouraged me to join the College’s Federal Reserve Team
which helped me make new friends, expanded my professional contacts and helped
me gain more access to wonderful professors who continue to inspire me today.” Kay
later served as a U.S. Department of State fellow during the Obama Administration from
2014-2015, attended City College and then earned a master’s degree in International
Affairs and Human Rights from Columbia University. He now works for The World Bank
in Washington, D.C., as a research analyst on women’s economic empowerment issues.
Additionally, the President’s attention to the details that make the College a
community are legendary.
The birthday cards she sent to all were equally celebrated, as were the
congratulatory notes on achievements and the chicken soup she provided to those
who were under the weather. Condolences when loved ones have passed away
were often delivered in person and cherished.
Kebedech Tekleab, an assistant professor of Art and Design and a PSC-CUNY
Research Grant recipient, describes attending a dinner for new faculty. She said that
Dr. Call “in her graceful way of greeting guests as she moved from table to table,
came to mine and expressed her sympathy in regard to a family member I had
lost a few months earlier. Remembering a new faculty member has lost someone
is one thing. Knowing who was lost shows a much higher level of interest in that
faculty member’s well-being.”
Tekleab’s grant enabled her to study the Refugee Settlement Programs in Uganda
and the related refugee crisis in the Mediterranean – then use her research to inspire
her art. Before applying, she mentioned this to Dr. Call who the professor says,
immediately recognized the importance of her project and supported it.
Dr. Call also made it possible for a Campus Peace Officer and the woman he
met years ago, when they were both students here, to be the first couple ever to be
married at the College. The ceremony took place under the Pergola on Oakland Lawn.
On June 1, Dr. Call led her final commencement. She, herself, holds a Doctor
of Education degree in College and University Administration, a Master’s degree
in Community College Administration and a second Master’s degree in Student
Personnel Administration, all earned from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Additionally, she holds a Certificate in Curriculum Development from Harvard
University, School of Education.
But on the day of commencement those who earned associate degrees were
again her stars - and the stars of graduation. To focus attention on the graduates,
she often does not invite a speaker. “Instead, I narrate the event,” she explained.
During a recent interview in her office, Dr. Call reminisced about her own
“Both of my parents worked,” she said of those days in Westchester. “My
mother dreamed of going to college and earning a CUNY degree, but that dream
never became a reality. My father, Charles F. Bova, Sr., was an orphan who served
in World War II.” The College’s Veteran’s Grove, which is named for the President’s
father, was a gift from Dr. Call to honor him, along with those at the College who
have served. A plaque on the site notes that her father was a Bronze Star Recipient,
a first sergeant in the Tank Destroyer Brigade of the United States First Army – and
a liberator of the Dachau concentration camp.
“When he went to war, I felt a responsibility to care for my mother – and my
brother,” she said. Eventually, though, she was living her own life, in college and
graduate school. And then, here at Queensborough which she referred to as “her
“I have cared more about what is happening here – on this campus. This is
not to say that I did not spend a great deal of time keeping up with the national
picture, speaking to colleagues from across the country and sometimes meeting
with them and presenting to them in person. But my place has been here, doing
the work that needs to be done. And, for me, my work home is Queensborough
Dr. Call has thought of Queensborough as her work home from the day she
arrived at Queensborough almost five decades ago. She was in that position
as an unpaid intern when she completed her first Master’s degree in Student
Personnel Administration. She spoke up, asked for a full-time job and got one
working with student clubs.
“I was always drawn to education and wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “After
several years of teaching high school English, I decided to change my graduate school
major to work in higher education. My first master’s degree required an internship
at a college. Fortunately – and fortuitously – I was assigned
here. Looking back on my own experience, it took me a bit of
time to realize I had a career, and not simply a job. That is a
lesson I try to teach every member of our campus community.”
In speaking more about that first major challenge she had
at the College, Dr. Call added that she had only had a full time
job for two weeks when it happened – when all her supervisors
at the still-new college lost their jobs.
“It was a challenging launch,” she recalled, philosophically.
Quickly, though, she realized she should be worrying
about the students. The students had also depended on
these supervisory staffers to mentor them on their personal
and academic growth. And now they were gone.
“The students were much older then,” Dr. Call said. “Of
our 5,000 students, more than 2,500 were military veterans,
including those who had served in Vietnam. I knew I had to do
something so they wouldn’t feel abandoned, so I went to work
the next day, a Saturday. No big deal. I didn’t like weekends.
I liked going to work.”
“I remember that the students were sitting on the floor,
as they did then - and still do. I sat down on the floor with
them. I wanted them to feel comfortable speaking with me. I wanted to reassure
them and help them to discuss their plans for the future. I wanted to try to instill
a sense of security in them. This was a difficult time, but not only for this one
department in our College. It was a difficult time for the nation as well, and many
of these students had recently returned home from fighting a war – an unpopular
war. They needed support.” It is the same kind of strong support she continued to
give to students, staff and faculty who are veterans today; she did this in concert
with maintaining the Grove in their honor.
Dr. Call looked wistful, as she told this story about her first challenge back then.
“That was when I first began to learn about the College’s moving parts and how they
connect.” Then quickly, she returned to the present. “By the way, I like weekends
now,” she said confidently with a smile. She is someone leaving a job well done.
Dr. Call left with the knowledge that she has mentored many faculty, staff and
students – and that among her students are those who either stay to work here
or return to do so. “I am so proud of a student who began as a Tech Fee intern in
our Academic Computing Center and now mentors other people,” she said. Tech
Fee is a program she initiated as Vice President for Finance and Administration to
provide students – all of whom commute - with a convenient hands-on learning/
work experience at the College.
“And then there is Lucy Shi,” Dr. Call continued, speaking with pride about
another alum, who now also works here. “Lucy is a Risk Management and
Finance Manager. Her passion for her work is deeply rooted in her connection
to our community.”
“My family moved here from Sydney, Australia in 2002,” Shi said recently.
“It was right after my high school graduation. I didn’t know how long I would
be staying so I decided to enroll in a two-year college, so that if I returned to
Australia, I would already have an Associate Degree instead of worrying about
transferring credits back.”
Like a number of individuals who have known Dr. Call a long time, Shi
affectionately refers to her as “Dr. Diane.”
“It was spring 2005 when I met Dr. Diane,” Shi continued. “She was then Vice
President for Finance and Administration. I was the Administrative Vice President
of the Student Government Association, a math tutor and a College Assistant in
the Accounting Department. The President was very involved with the student
government and we often met weekly. I saw a mentor in her and soon she became
my go-to person whenever I needed advice on something, whether it was about
my career or academics. I kept in close touch with her after graduation. In 2010
I was working as an accountant for AIG when the economic crisis hit. I needed a
way out. Luckily, Queensborough was hiring. I ran back to Queensborough and
continued to advance my career.”
Shi said, “Dr. Call was a guardian angel to many. She took me right under her
wing. She gave me the wisdom and confidence to show my potential to others. She
also encouraged me to get involved in our community. I am a member of numerous
committees and one of the most important ones I have been on is Affirmative Action.
I am proud to have served on over 30 search committees.”
It is impossible to mention Dr. Call without noting her own elegant style and
the influence she has had on the campus. It is beautiful - and well-stocked with
comfortable gathering places for students to study and collaborate, including the
new Science Atrium. “The campus is just gorgeous,” agreed Anne Marie Menendez,
professor and chair of the Nursing Department. “When I go elsewhere, I can’t
wait to get back here. I love to show it to colleagues from other schools, as well.”
Menendez, echoing the comments of other chairs, also discussed how Dr. Call
has supported her department and its students. Both she and Alexandra Tarasko, a
nursing professor, noted that Dr. Call appreciated the particular needs the nursing
department has for supplies. And also that it is important to keep the Department’s
Simulation Laboratory current. (A simulator for birthing, the department’s first, will
arrive soon). The professors also noted that Dr. Call came to every luncheon and
candle lighting ceremony for graduates, always prepared with details about the
students’ lives, studies and aspirations.
They added that when Lorraine Cupelli, an assistant nursing professor,
collaborated on a project with the Kupferberg Holocaust Center, Dr. Call brought
her and a student to describe it to the Center’s board. The study addressed cultural
competency – and sensitivity – so needed by nurses today. It also discussed the
value of nursing students’ interviews with elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors on
“their cultural views of health, illness and death.” The proximity of the campus’
Holocaust Center, the study said, made it ideal as a “nontraditional clinic site.”
The Kupferberg Holocaust Center, the QCC Art Gallery and Queensborough’s
Performing Arts Center (QPAC), are the arms of the College that both serve students
and draw in members of the community. Dr. Call’s support of this has been keenly
felt. She emphasized that all three are “learning laboratories,” due to the work they
do with both the College’s students and the community.
Susan Agin, who has been the Executive and Artistic Director of QPAC for almost
15 years, noted that the center is “thriving, touching thousands and inspiring many,
due to Dr. Call’s vision that student resources should extend far beyond books alone.”
Agin said that when Dr. Call attended events at QPAC “the artists performed just a
bit better when they knew she was watching.” The director added that “community
members are also happy to be able to thank her for her support of the arts, in person.”
Assistant Professor Azadeh Aalai, a social psychologist who was a National
Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the Holocaust Center, said that Dr. Call’s
“passion in serving the community and developing programs for our students was
very apparent and visible in all the work that she did.”
Dr. Call characteristically prefered to speak about all the work others have done.
“A few weeks ago I tried jotting down things that happen in a day,” she said. “But
I had to stop because the list grew too long. But it did contain so many wonderful,
unexpected surprises. For example, I visited our Flushing Center, where we teach
construction workers about OSHA regulations – in Mandarin. What is constant here
is the solid commitment of faculty and staff to students and to others who avail
themselves of the education we provide.”
On the subject of fundraising, Dr. Call expressed a humanistic point of view.
“Our donors are investors,” she said. “People learn how their investments impact
students in small ways and large ways. We need the investment from donors to
insure student success. I think I have raised an awareness of the extraordinary
institution we are. The money is important but we need believers. We need people
who can offer our students internships, people who can offer them jobs. It is not
just writing a check. It is believing in what we do. This is why we always put our
students and alumni front and center at board meetings, at our Partners for Progress
Gala. We want donors and potential donors to see the impact of their investments.”
Among those who spoke at this year’s Gala was Paola Beniquez, a student who
has been flying back periodically to Puerto Rico to help her family members. Their
life was upended by Hurricane Maria. Paola flew back and forth while pursuing her
art and design studies and gaining acceptance to Pratt Institute in the fall. Beniquez
is also a champion of the College’s women’s volleyball team, and was one of three
first year students in the country to win a “Player of the Year” award. Other students
who spoke included Mabely Salvador, an immigrant from El Salvador, the first in her
family to go to college. She is also Student Government President and plans to study
psychology at Queens College. Another speaker, Kyle Chin-How, (’15) an immigrant
from Guyana, won a prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer
Scholarship. He participated in a White House Internship and graduated from the
Skadden Arps program at City College in 2017.
As the interview drew to a close, Dr. Call paused and remembered an
international trip she took about twenty years ago. Another passenger on her flight,
a venture capitalist, asked her what she did for a living. “I told him that I was an
educator, a college administrator. ‘Oh, he said. ‘We are in the same line of work.
We both believe in people.’”
Dr. Call offered one final thought:
“When I see Queensborough, I see a community. Not just buildings but people.
I see something that is really strong, really beautiful and something that represents
dreams for everyone. For me, it was, starting as that unpaid intern-to have been
given the opportunity and to have achieved. I am so proud of our students, faculty
and staff who have also achieved. I was blessed. I cannot express how much
I believe in student success. I believe in a community that collaborates to turn
dreams into reality.”
Dr. Diane B. Call, President of Queensborough Community College, Retired in August
After Distinguished 47-year Career, and Serving as the College’s First Woman President