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ECC President David Sam values collaborating with ECC employees, students and community


Saying that Elgin Community College President David Sam, JD, PhD, LLM, enjoys being the college's longest-serving president would be an understatement. Sam, who is currently in his 11th year as president, says his job is “fun.”

“I have fun when our students are successful, like when I read about our alumni being promoted, getting a new job, or doing something; and when I meet any alumni from the college in the community and they identify their connection to the college,” he said. “That happens frequently, so I have fun all the time!”

ECC also represents something of a homecoming for Sam-an alumni of Illinois State University in downstate Illinois and Northwestern University in Evanston. He also held professional and teaching positions at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Harold Washington College in Chicago. After previously working for colleges in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, and serving as president of North Harris College outside of Houston, Texas prior to ECC, he longed to return to the Chicago area. Being closer to the family of his wife, Julie, was the reason for the move.

“She had four sisters and a brother here,” Sam said. “I wanted my children to bond with their cousins, aunts and uncle. Also, we used to live in Chicago, and we love Chicago and enjoy it. We went to other places, and we just wanted to be back in Chicago.”

Looking for a position that was no more than 200 miles away from Chicago, or a three-hour drive, he learned of an opening at ECC-an hour outside the city-and applied. He felt at ease when he interviewed for the position.

“I felt very comfortable during my interview. It looked like a good fit,” Sam recalled. “When you are interviewing, they are watching you and everything, and you are also checking them out. I thought this was going to work out, not just because it was in the Chicago area, but I felt there was some good chemistry.”

Now that he is close to his family, Sam has gained a second family at ECC. In addition to shaking hands in the hallways (andif he has not shaken yours, trust us, it likely will happen), he's energetically sharing his enthusiasm for the college during all-college convocations, speeches, and of course, commencement-which he affectionately calls the “Super Bowl” of college celebrations.

We caught up with Sam and asked him questions about himself and his work at ECC. Here are his answers.

In your words, what do you do at ECC?

I could describe it as being a coordinator of the many wonderful activities that happen on the campus to ensure that students achieve their dreams, employees fulfill their career aspirations, and community members get a bang for their buck.

What have been your three greatest accomplishments since you've been here?

Since I have been here, more people than ever before have graduated from the college. If you look at the last 10 years, the number of people who have graduated with associate degrees or certificates are at an all-time high. Completion has been very important to us.

Second, as you may have known, we had a referendum in 2009 that enabled us to change the college's landscape. We were able to update and upgrade buildings and areas that were very old and add on Building A; Building C, the library; Building K; and the ECC Center for Emergency Services in Burlington.

Third, I believe we have made a greater impact in the community. We are recognized more by the community and beyond as a major player in the socioeconomic development of this area.

But let me add, these accomplishments were not all done by me, they were done collectively. We worked together-the ECC Board of Trustees, and our faculty, staff, administrators, students, and the community. Everyone has worked together on all of these things.

What would you do if you were an ECC professor for a day?

Our faculty members do an outstanding job and I have known many of them who are award winners. If I were to be a professor for a day, I would talk to them and ask how I can be an excellent professor. Because these are award-winning faculty members, who better to ask than those who have been recognized nationally for outstanding work!

If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?

Sidney Poitier. He's a wonderful actor, and he's won an Academy Award for that.

My all-time favorite movie from him is “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?” It puts our values to the test. We may profess being a certain way in times of no challenge, but when there's a challenge, how do you respond? That movie puts the family he's trying to marry into-they claim that they were supportive and open-minded-into a challenging situation.

What's on your “bucket list?”

At ECC, I want to have a commencement where as many people who started here complete their degree or certificate. When we have more people complete, that fulfills my bucket list.

Personally, when I retire, I have a couple of things on my list. I hope I get the opportunity to set up a school to train and fund entrepreneurs in Ghana. Also, I like to travel and want to visit the Caribbean. It is so close, but I have never been there! I have been to Asia, Europe, and Africa, of course, but I would like to go to the Caribbean and see what is there.

What's one fact we should know about you?

People do not know about how much I really love to teach. Teaching and learning are fascinating to me, especially the impact on students of those who teach.

I love being in the classroom and miss it, but the way I view myself today is that I do things to enable more faculty to go to their classrooms each day and work with our students.

What's something about your job that others should know?

It is very challenging, but it is a lot of fun, and very satisfying and fulfilling. You have to juggle so many things.

My idea of fun is seeing someone who enters ECC with certain expectations or does not know exactly what they want, and in a semester or two, or three, or four, they achieve what they were looking for. When I stand on stage at commencement and see the students walking to pick up their diplomas, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing how hard they have worked to achieve this milestone.

Another example of how my job is fun is when our students are successful, as in the case of eight of our students receiving full scholarships to Northern Illinois University as the result of a partnership with the college, NIU and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I tell you, I have been riding high ever since I heard that news!

What would be your “theme song?”

I have thought about this, but when I die, they should play commencement music (“Pomp and Circumstance” by Edward Elgar). I love graduations.

I also have thought of “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. You have an opportunity each day to achieve something and you should celebrate that.

What was your favorite class in school?

In high school it was English literature. In college, because of the line of work I thought I would be doing-being a diplomat-it was international relations. I did well in that subject and was being trained in that field.

What was your first job out of school?

When I finished graduate school and moved back to Illinois, I had a job as a financial planning assistant with Arthur Andersen. It doesn't exist anymore, but it was a big accounting firm.

What quote best describes your philosophy?

“Brighten the corner where you are.”

For you to be able to brighten it, you have to do the right things-you have to be ethical, you have to be legal, among other things. So whatever corner you are, you have to do your best and brighten it.

Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because … “

I have fun coming here every day. It is a wonderful place, and I enjoy working with all of the people affiliated with the college.


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