Kingsborough Community College President Dr. Claudia Schrader just kicked off her second semester atop the school, after taking over as its chief educator last September. But the newly appointed head of “Harvard by the Bay” is no stranger to Brooklyn, or the City University of New York system — she previously served as an associate professor at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, and as the provost and senior vice president for academic and student success at the outer-borough Bronx Community College, during her 17-year CUNY career. The Caribbean-American born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands moved to the mainland in 1986, and went on to earn masters degrees in special education and a doctorate degree in international transcultural studies from Columbia University’s Teachers College. Schrader sat down with us to discuss her first months on the job, and her plans for keeping the Manhattan Beach college — which she noted boasts the highest graduation rate among CUNY schools in the borough — the best in its class:
Kevin Duggan: How was your first semester?
Claudia Schrader: It was good. I’m learning a lot about the college — and learning a lot of names. I didn’t expect the campus to be as huge as it is, but now it seems smaller because I know where I’m going.
KD: What motivated you to take the job?
CS: I knew I could do the job, and I want to move the institution in a positive direction. Plus, it’s a CUNY college, and I believe strongly in the system’s mission, having worked within it for 17 years. The commitment to public education is bar none — it’s one of the best [public university systems] in the United States.
KD: Tell me what you like about Kingsborough, specifically.
CS: Kingsborough has always been a college of innovation. We’re trying new things and making them stick. We also have a committed faculty and staff that have been here a long time. And of all the colleges in CUNY — excluding Guttman Community College in Manhattan — Kingsborough has the highest graduation and retention rates, meaning our students come back each semester. Although we are far into Southern Brooklyn, students who come here finish faster, which means they get on really well. That is a draw for anyone who believes in student success.
KD: What are some of your plans for the semester ahead, and beyond?
CS: One of the things I’m doing in the first year is just gathering information. My approach is not to come in and say, “This is what needs to be done.” It’s about getting input from the campus community, so I’ve being doing breakfast meetings, surveys, and other things. For example, there’s a very vibrant student body at Kingsborough, and I met with some members of the Student Government Association. They had some ideas on how to improve the Kingsborough app, to make the technology more modern and give it a facelift. There’s a lot to do, but I’m still getting that information from the campus community.
KD: How does your childhood growing up in the Caribbean influence the way you run the school?
CS: My background taught me to be patient, to really be present and consider all aspects of a situation, because you can’t present an idea that is flat. You need to be mindful of how everybody sees that idea, so I’m very mindful of different mentalities. I’m also a little more global in my thinking. Growing up on the islands taught me the value of community. Everyone knows everyone else down there. It also grounded me in a very real way. On an island, we didn’t get things at the same time the mainland did, such as cable television, which came a bit later. It was very humbling.
— Kevin Duggan