Montgomery County Leadership: Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez, President of Montgomery County Community College
Dr. Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez, President of Montgomery County Community College, spoke with MONTCO Today about growing up the youngest of four children outside Pittsburgh. She attended the University of Pittsburgh with the hope of becoming a dental hygienist before discovering a love of learning and teaching and landing her first job, a full-time faculty position at Pitt when she graduated at age 21.
After getting her Ed.D. and teaching for several years, President Bastecki-Perez describes how she serendipitously learned Montgomery County Community College was looking for a Director of Dental Hygiene, landing the job and then working to become the college’s sixth president.
As president of MCCC, Bastecki-Perez talks about creating a culture of opportunity and learning and the challenge of leading the school through the pandemic.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Allegheny Township (PA) in Westmoreland County, which is northeast of Pittsburgh.
What memories do you have growing up in Allegheny Township?
My parents knew that higher education would be a catalyst to change my life and my three brothers’ lives for the better. We are all first-generation college graduates.
Although my parents did not have the opportunity to attend college themselves, they were able to see and emphasize the value of higher education.
What did your parents do?
My dad was the senior staff technician for Alcoa for more than 35 years. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until we started heading off to college, and then she began working as the manager of a Hallmark store.
My parents sacrificed tremendously so that we could attend college, and my brothers and I knew we needed to capitalize on this wonderful opportunity.
My parents had a strong conviction for service and leadership. They always emphasized the importance of giving to our communities. From an early age, they had us volunteering with formal organizations or self-discovered grassroots efforts. They always taught us to pay it forward.
Where did their conviction come from?
I think it was part of the fabric of who they were and the timeframe when they grew up. They had some tragedies in their lives at an early age. My father lost his father in a car accident when he was a young man, and my mother lost her sister as a young adult as well. I think their families instilled a commitment to service in them, and they encouraged us to serve and take on leadership roles. They always saw the good in others.
What memories of growing up in Allegheny Township stay with you?
Because of the diversity of the Pittsburgh area, we had an opportunity to have enriched lives. While our family’s finances were limited, we were still able to take advantage of the museums, cultural events, and other transformational experiences.
Did you play any sports in high school?
I was the catcher on a championship softball team in a community league. Having three older brothers, I was very competitive. We played basketball, tennis, and racquetball, swam, and we were always outside because we lived in a very rural area. We would go sledding in the winter and pick blackberries in the summer. I was also a majorette in middle and high school, as well as in the marching band. I was involved in several clubs in school, including leadership organizations.
Did you have a job growing up?
The priority in our household was our schoolwork – so that was our job, per se. On weekends or holidays, I would babysit kids in the neighborhood. In college, I would come home on breaks and work in the Hallmark store with my mom.
What lessons did you learn from babysitting and in the store that stay with you today?
With babysitting, I learned responsibility, and I realized the positive impact my actions could have in helping with and caring for others. With the store, I always worked at peak times during the holidays, so I learned valuable customer service skills. You need to be a good listener and articulate and communicate well when working in retail. You also wouldn’t believe how fast I can wrap a package! That comes in handy every holiday or birthday.
Where did you go to college?
I began my college education at the University of Pittsburgh in the School of Dental Medicine. My career aspiration was to become a dental hygienist and complete two certificate programs at Pitt, dental assisting, and oral hygiene, which I completed with honors. I was a continuous learner, so I went through undergraduate at Pitt in six semesters, summers included.
While there, I had the opportunity to be a student-teacher and focused on K-12 education in the curriculum. I transferred to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania to earn with honors my Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, beginning my graduate studies at Exeter College, Oxford University, through study abroad, and then completed with honors both a Master’s and Doctorate in Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh.
You took a very unusual path from dental to education, what caused the change?
From an early age, I’ve always had a passion and avid curiosity for learning. When I was at Pitt in the Dental Hygiene Program, I participated in a practicum in the Pittsburgh Public School System and taught students about dental health education. Also, I was asked by a faculty member to be a teaching assistant in the labs of the dental hygiene curriculum.
One faculty member, Microbiology Professor Herman Langkamp, took the time to invest in me the first semester of my first year at Pitt. He believed I had more to offer and encouraged me to continue my education beyond earning my certificates.
What was your reaction to that?
I knew he was right, but at the same time, I was an 18-year-old, first-generation college student. It was the first time someone outside of my family and inner circle told me I was intellectually talented and had a lot to offer. He helped me realize my potential and believe it!
What did he see in you that set you apart from the other students?
I think he saw my curiosity for learning and a strong work ethic, my critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities, as well as integrity and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I also demonstrated leadership in my classes, despite being a freshman and coming from a small rural town. I think he saw that I was humble and grateful for the opportunities I had through higher education.
Speaking of leadership, when did you first see that you had leadership abilities?
Honestly, from my earliest memories – having three older brothers taught me so much. I think being able to keep up with them and seeing the world from their perspective profoundly influenced my growth and development.
What did you do after you graduated from Edinboro?
The summer after I graduated, I received a call from Pitt’s Dental Hygiene Program Director, who said she would like me to return to teach at the University. At the time, I was 21 years old and had no idea what I, a recent graduate, had to offer. It was a full-time faculty position! I was teaching senior students who were only one year removed as my peers.
Did you get your Ed.D. from there?
I received my Master’s from the University of Pittsburgh in Instructional Design and Technology. Through this program, my passion and desire to learn and teach grew even stronger. By systematically looking at different curricula through the design, development, delivery, and evaluation perspective, I was able to become a more effective teacher in a quest to improve student-learning outcomes.
During that time, Herman Langkamp provided a letter of support for admission into the doctorate program. I was accepted without having to go through the interview process. I got my doctorate in the same area, with a focus on visual literacy and how the visual message in communication is so vital to teaching and learning, especially in today’s enriched media world.
Besides Herman Langkamp, who else helped propel your career?
First and foremost, my parents, by giving us the opportunity and encouragement to learn and grow. They taught us the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which have had such a profound impact on me. My mother’s advice to be my authentic self was a catalyst for my success. My brothers were also undoubtedly influential.
My husband and my daughter are particularly influential in my life. My husband, Santos, and I have been married for 25 years and have been committed to each other for more than 30 years. He helps me stay grounded by reminding me to show love and gratitude every day. They have both also taught me about unconditional love and that dreams do become reality.
My husband is a first-generation college graduate, too. It’s our life’s work to make sure others have the same opportunities we had.
We know the transformative power of higher education and the impact it has had upon the success of our career trajectories, which is why we made a legacy investment in June 2020 to establish the Bastecki-Perez Presidential Scholarship through the College’s Foundation to support students, particularly those who identify as first-generation learners.
To date, many generous philanthropists have joined this initiative, establishing an additional 10 scholarships, totaling nearly $340,000.
How did you end up at Montgomery County Community College?
It was by fortunate happenstance. I was a full-time faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh for almost nine years when I realized that the impact I can have was only on a small number of students in the classroom. At that point, I had various leadership roles in our clinical arena and knew that I wanted to move into higher education administration. I knew I would have the ability to be able to touch more lives and have more of a global impact with policy, resources, services, fundraising and more.
As I was deciding where to go from the University of Pittsburgh, I was looking for a place that had a mission and vision congruent with my personal mission and values. I had a colleague who was at a conference at MCCC and told me there was a Director of Dental Hygiene position open.
I applied, and what I learned later was that the search only was posted locally instead of a national search. I just happened on this job posting because a colleague told me about it. It seemed serendipitous to me.
I’ve now been a part of the Montco Family for more than 25 years serving in various roles, and I became the sixth President of Montgomery County Community College in May 2020. I feel truly honored, humbled, and privileged to serve in this role. Every day I am committed to fulfilling the College’s mission, vision, and strategic agenda, leading not only with my mind but also with my heart.
At MCCC, we help learners of all ages and at all stages find and develop their special uniqueness, so they can be the best versions of themselves. We accomplish this through a culture of caring, where everyone feels welcomed and respected and knows they have a voice and – most importantly – their voice will be heard. Working together, we have a common goal to inspire, lead and transform the lives of our students and the communities we serve.
Around the time of my inauguration as the sixth President, I was interviewed for the “Montco on the Move” podcast, where I had the opportunity to share my thoughts about how much the presidency means to me, as well as the plans for MCCC’s future.
What was it like leading the College during the pandemic?
It’s been an unprecedented time for all of us. Yet, despite the challenges, we’ve rallied together, as MCCC has done for more than half a century, drawing on our resilience, innovation, creativity, passion and talent to create solutions. With over two decades of experience in online learning, we were able to pivot quickly our on-campus classes to online when the pandemic struck. Seeing the toll the pandemic had on our students’ overall mental wellness, we became the first community college in the country to collaborate with Talkspace to make online therapy accessible to all students when they need it, at no additional cost. And, we were the first college in the country to collaborate with Benefits Data Trust, a national nonprofit that students can contact for assistance with public safety net services for their basic living needs. Knowing our students were struggling with essential needs, the Foundation rapidly raised more than $100,000 for a student emergency fund to help with housing, childcare, food, transportation and other expenses. We also launched the Montco Recovery Tuition Assistance Program to provide last-dollar tuition waivers for County residents who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, which program MCCC continues to offer to residents.
As the communities’ college, MCCC served residents in myriad ways before, during, and now post-pandemic. MCCC held a drive-through community-based testing site for the COVID-19 virus in 2020, served as the first mass vaccine center in Montgomery County in 2021, held additional vaccine clinics at both campuses in 2021, hosted American Red Cross blood drives, and served as secured ballot drop-box locations, satellite election offices and polling places during the elections. MCCC also donated personal protective equipment, food, and supplies and provided space for the local police to use as a secure satellite office, among other initiatives.
The years 2020 and 2021 also shined an intense spotlight on the systemic inequality faced by many of our country’s ethnic and racial groups. At MCCC, equity, diversity, and inclusion have always been top priorities. A huge part of what makes our College so great is the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds across every department, classroom, and extracurricular activity. This did not happen by accident. It is the culmination of years of inclusive programs, as well as a mindset dedicated to fostering diversity.
Our collective work to remove barriers to access, close equity gaps, improve learning outcomes and increase completion for all students has earned MCCC the highly regarded national Achieving the Dream Leader College of Distinction award. For the sixth consecutive year, MCCC has been named one of the Most Promising Places to Work in Community Colleges in the nation by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development for our commitment to diversity through inclusive learning and work environments, student and staff recruitment, and retention practices, and meaningful community service and engagement opportunities
Looking ahead, we’re excited about several opportunities on the horizon. For 25 years, the College has served the higher education needs of the Pottstown community and the Tri-County Region, and now we are reimagining how the Pottstown Campus can enhance the local community by providing additional resources and opportunities, such as Challenger Learning Center.
Our recent plans involve a greater integration of the campus into the Pottstown community that would offer attractive, inclusive, and engaging spaces for students and the greater community. At our Blue Bell Campus, renovations continue at our Science Center building, modernizing our science and engineering labs and classrooms and enhancing our theatre space. We will be bringing our Hospitality Institute to campus there, too.
You can read more about the exciting things happening in Montco’s 2020-2021 Annual Report.
How does Montgomery County Community College play into the shortage of skilled employees?
As the community’s college, we provide workforce solutions for area businesses and industries by offering customized training programs with national certifications to address the growing skills gap in the labor market. To accomplish this, we work closely with business and industry leaders, as well as the County and many organizations, to learn how we can serve the workforce needs of employers. Recently, we collaborated with a professional services firm, Aon plc, to provide apprenticeship opportunities for our students.
Through this “earn-while-you-learn” model, Aon pays apprentices a salary and benefits and covers tuition, books and fees while students pursue their associate degrees. Through our Global Academy, we collaborated with the Department of Collegiate and Technical Education (DCTE), Government of Karnataka, India, to offer DCTE students online and on-campus courses for the Tourism and Hospitality Management Associate Degree Program.
In 2020-2021, MCCC received its largest gift in its 56-year history of $3 million from Kenneth D. Baker for the creation of the Baker Center of Excellence for Employee Ownership and Business Transformation. The Baker Center of Excellence will be a driving force in business transformation; will serve as a mechanism of upward mobility, equity and inclusion for employees; and will provide resources for businesses and students for employer-employee partnership models.
We look forward to the opening of Pennsylvania’s first Challenger Learning Center at our Pottstown Campus in the next few months. This hands-on, simulation-based science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Center will help to ignite a passion for lifelong learning in area youth. Through this experiential program, youth will learn new skills and ideas that will prepare them for success in higher education and their careers.
Finally, Vicki, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Honestly, I have to go back to my mom’s advice always to be your authentic self and to pay it forward. She leads such an incredible life by example and always inspires me. She continues to share her talents and gifts to make the world a better place.
As president, I hope to make a difference with an inclusive recovery for the communities we serve by increasing economic and social mobility and generational wealth and to leave a legacy at MCCC that is forever green, impacting not only today’s learners but also future generations.
Follow Dr. Bastecki-Perez on Instagram @vbasteckiperez and connect with her on LinkedIn.
For the latest news about Montgomery County Community College, please sign up for the President’s Report, listen to our Montco on the Move podcast and follow MCCC on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.
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