When Michael Baston ’97 was just eight years old, he told his mother that he wanted to be president one day. She encouraged him, saying that first he needed to go to college and law school.
“Looking back on it now,” Baston reflected, “she told me what I could do. She didn’t say, you can’t be president because you are black. And it was at that moment that I decided I would become a lawyer, because it would put me on the right path.” In July, he fulfilled his boyhood presidential dreams in another way, when he was appointed the 7th president of Rockland Community College.
Baston has a history of being a leader—he was a two-term president of the Student Bar Association at Brooklyn Law School and the regional representative to the National Black Law Students Association. He credits the Law School’s extensive clinical programs for developing his strong passion for social justice and public interest law. He pursued this interest through a judicial internship for Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis and internships at the American Arbitration Association, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Brooklyn Legal Services.
After graduating, he joined the firm of Dougherty & Associates, where he represented nonprofits and educational institutions. His first client was his alma mater, Iona College, and the experience of working with the school brought him into the world of post-secondary education. He joined Berkeley College in 1999 as assistant dean of student affairs. Ten years later, he joined LaGuardia Community College, and rose through the ranks to become vice president for student affairs and enrollment, associate provost, and an assistant professor. LaGuardia held a special place in his heart, because of its location in Long Island City, where his parents grew up.
Baston was a seminal leader at LaGuardia known for integrating academics and student affairs and directing efforts to provide high-quality academic support services. He also served as the principal investigator for grant-funded programs totaling $1.8 million, leading to improved retention for black males, Latinos, and students with disabilities.
“My goal was to redefine the student experience and help them focus on developing a path that could lead to family-supporting wages,” he said.
Dean Nick Allard, who grew up in Rockland County, applauded the choice of Baston as president. “I learned firsthand about the critical education mission of community colleges, particularly RCC. We can expect great things from Michael Baston as the leader of a very important institution.”
At Rockland Community College, which enrolls 10,000 students, Baston is now overseeing the final stages of approval for a $26.7 million privately funded residence hall project that will give students, for the first time ever, the option to live on campus while pursuing their studies. “This will take the college to a different place in terms of competitiveness, and may help expose people to Rockland who wind up feeling connected to the community and decide they ultimately want to live and work here,” he said.
Baston’s dedication extends beyond his community as well. As one of 12 coaches for the American Association of Community Colleges Pathways, he travels the country supporting college leadership teams that are implementing student success initiatives to advance college completion.
“We can’t build bridges to nowhere,” he said. “We have to get students on the path and have them stay on it so that they have the opportunity to move into the middle class.”
— Andrea Strong ’94