A newsmaker you should know: CCAC educator seeks to change lives with her zest for higher learning

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While Feb. 12 began like most days for Donna Imhoff of Westwood, a surprising twist of events made it one that she would never forget.

Ms. Imhoff -- campus president of Community College of Allegheny County Allegheny campus and Homewood-Brushton Center and interim campus president at CCAC's North campus and West Hills Center -- was steeped in her many responsibilities when she was summoned to a Pittsburgh City Council meeting.

Upon arrival, she was presented with a resolution honoring her for her achievements in the field of education and for her work on behalf of CCAC.

Sponsored by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, Resolution 75 formally declared Feb. 12 as "Donna Imhoff Day" in the city of Pittsburgh.

Ms. Imhoff said the honor came as a complete surprise to her and that it was something she never imagined would have happened.

Uncertain of how to spend the day that was named after her, Ms. Imhoff, business as usual, promptly returned to work.

Ms. Imhoff's affiliation with CCAC began in 1985 when she joined CCAC as a coordinator/instructor for CCAC North.

She has served the college in myriad capacities including: acting assistant director of social service career programs; career counselor; academic adviser; associate professor (and later professor) of psychology; department chair of social and behavioral sciences and education; and American Federation of Teachers union vice president.

In 2008, she was named campus president at CCAC North and West Hills Center, adding the additional title of interim campus president at CCAC Allegheny and Homewood-Brushton Center, in July 2011. She has been in her current position since Jan. 1.

A first-generation college graduate, Ms. Imhoff said she loves studying and that education always has been important to her.

She has earned master's and doctorate degrees.

"Someone once told me that if a doctoral program doesn't change your life, then it hasn't done its job," she said.

"Well, I think mine's working overtime."

Content at the time with her job as an instructor, Ms. Imhoff said it never crossed her mind that she would one day serve as campus president.

However, there were some things that she said she wanted to improve so she applied for the position when it opened up.

"If the worst thing that ever would have happened to me was that I spent the rest of my career teaching at CCAC, then it would have been a great career," she said.

Her life changed while driving home one day in July 2008 when she received a phone call from CCAC president Alex Johnson, who offered her the position of campus president for CCAC North and West Hills Center.

Shaking and hyperventilating, she said she had to pull into a parking lot near her home to regain control of herself.

"My thoughts were, 'Oh my God, now what do I do?' " she said.

"I hadn't really thought this far ahead but it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I ever made."

Ms. Imhoff drew from her experiences as an instructor and said she runs the campus as she would a classroom. She described herself as honest and direct, which she said has served her well.

"I kind of tell it like it is and say look, this isn't right, and we have to do it the right way," she said.

"It saves a lot of time, too."

Ms. Imoff said the majority of CCAC's students are first-generation college students, and having been one herself, she understands the feelings of unfamiliarity with the collegiate atmosphere.

This can often lead to frustration for students, she said, who may ultimately withdraw.

Knowing all too well the importance of education in establishing a career, Ms. Imhoff said her students are her top priority, particularly those who may be considering giving up before achieving their goals.

"Those are the people that I want to catch and make sure that they understand what they're doing," she said.

"Most importantly, we want to catch people that are thinking about leaving and help them succeed and graduate."

In 2003, Ms. Imhoff received the NISOD Excellence in Teaching Award at the International Conference on Teaching and Leadership Excellence. She currently serves as president, board of directors, Crisis Center North, serves on the Commission on Economic and Workforce Development of the American Association of Community Colleges and is a member of the Holy Family Institute Community Services Board.

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Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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