CCAC school chief is 'engine' of innovation
By Debra Erdley
Published: Monday, May 14, 2012, 7:46 p.m.
Updated: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
No one was surprised when Donna Imhoff became a teacher.
Her mother, Rita, recalls how her only daughter would lock the two of them in the bedroom and make her play school for hours at a time.
"She loved it," Rita Imhoff said.
Today, Donna Imhoff is president of two campuses of Community College of Allegheny County. On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh YWCA will honor Imhoff, 53, of the West End with its 2012 Tribute to Women Leadership Award in Education.
CCAC president Alex Johnson, who nominated her for the award, said Imhoff has been a champion of diversity and inclusion.
"She's one of our stars both in the college and the community," Johnson said.
He said Imhoff was the engine behind a safety and security overhaul that brought Behavioral Intervention Teams -- faculty groups taught to identify behavioral issues and steer students to support services before problems happen -- to CCAC.
"We've been working on it for the last two years. The faculty really bought into it. They've done a great job of recognizing students who need help and getting them the support they need to succeed," Johnson said.
Imhoff said the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings drove home the need for a plan.
"I was watching TV and they showed the mother of the boy who had tied a tourniquet on his leg (after the shooting). His mom had been a student of mine at South Campus. Suddenly it became very personal for me," she said.
Imhoff began her career at CCAC in 1985 as a temporary grant-funded counselor.
Over the years, she has been acting assistant director of social service career programs, a career counselor, an academic adviser, professor of psychology and department chair of social and behavioral sciences and education. Along the way, she earned a master's degree in school psychology from Duquesne University and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.
In the interim, Imhoff did everything from advising mentally challenged students in vocational programs at CCAC to teaching online classes and teaching dual enrollment high school students working to get an associate degree before high school graduation.
She negotiated two union contracts with CCAC as vice president of the school's unit of the American Federation of Teachers before being named president of CCAC's North Campus and West Hills Center in 2008. And in July 2011 she became interim campus president of CCAC's Allegheny Campus and its Homewood-Brushton Center.
John Dziak, president of the American Federation of Teachers at CCAC, said Imhoff's work on the safety and security overhaul is typical of the woman who once sat on his negotiating team.
"She was always engaged and involved. She did a lot of extra work and learned how the college worked," he said.
Her days may be long, but Imhoff said she had great preparation.
"I ran the Pittsburgh marathon twice, first when I was 25, and then when I was 30. Once you make your body run a marathon, you start to realize you can do a lot," Imhoff said.
Despite all she has done, her heart is still in the classroom.
"I loved teaching more than anything I have done. In the classroom, you get to know the students and that's where the fun happens," Imhoff said.
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