2006 Washingtonians of the Year: Charlene Nunley

“I committed to devote my life to community colleges.”

By: Leslie Milk, Ellen Ryan

At a campus event, Montgomery College president Charlene Nunley was chatting with a Maryland state senator and his wife. “I’m so impressed,” Nunley remembers the wife saying. “Someday you’ll go on to be president of a prestigious, selective university.”

“Why would I want to do that?” she replied. “Those students will probably be successful anyway. Here I get to change lives every day.”

In her eight years as head of Maryland’s largest community college, Nunley has stressed getting the widest variety of students into and through higher education. To handle rising enrollment, she secured public funds for the biggest two-year-college expansion in state history—adding four buildings at the Takoma Park campus and integrating it with a revitalized Silver Spring. To encourage sci-tech, she’s led planning of a 40-acre business park at Germantown with a bioscience center and a publicly funded technology incubator.

She helped bring half a dozen University of Maryland System college programs to Shady Grove; now county residents can get a four-year degree close to home. The Gateway to College program lets at-risk youth finish high school and get an associate’s degree. Montgomery Scholars honors-level students and others have the chance to study in Cambridge, England, on scholarship.

All this takes money, and Nunley has pushed Montgomery College into America’s top five community colleges in private fundraising. Says Dan Mote, president of the University of Maryland at College Park, “Charlene has shaped the college and its future.”