It All Started Here … Dr. Mary Way Bolt loves to tell Cecil College’s story
NORTH EAST, Md. –Behind every great success, there is a story of triumph over adversity. The stories of Cecil College’s students are no different, but for one exception. Cecil College has a narrator for every one of these tales, who shares them at every opportunity.
“I will tell the stories of Cecil College students forever and ever because I believe in them that much,” said Cecil College President Mary Way Bolt, Ed.D. “Stories tell the tales of Cecil College and the impact it has had on the lives of so many people within the county. It not only impacts the student but the generations that follow.”
Without a doubt, Dr. Bolt is the biggest cheerleader and advocate for the College’s students and the programs that guide them down a pathway to a better life.
“Our faculty and staff entrust me about our students’ stories and how they are moved by the adversity they faced and the ways in which the college came to the students’ aid to ensure they succeeded. My job is to share these stories broadly, with our student’s permission of course, in order to continue to inspire prospective students, funders, and our larger college community” said Dr. Bolt.
One such story is that of Vernon Thompson, the homeless man who enrolled in the CDL Training Program. His classmates learned of his plight and stepped forward to help him by driving him to class. Another classmate took him shopping and purchased five outfits for him. The instructor contacted the Cecil College Foundation, which helped him financially. Today, Thompson is a very successful truck driver whose life was directly impacted by the actions of others.
Dr. Bolt has told this story to local, county, and state politicians who have included it in their open speeches when talking of the benefits of higher and continuing education, including the trades. Cecil College boasts thousands of similar stories with Dr. Bolt conveying them to whoever will listen as she enters her fourth year as president of Cecil College.
“Whenever I have an opportunity, I kindly remind the leadership of government and private institutions that we offer programs that change lives. I like to tell the stories and hear the stories of our students for they are amazing stories,” said Dr. Bolt, who is the fifth Cecil College President and the first female.
Dr. Bolt is passionate about Cecil College, its students, the role the institution it plays in Cecil County and the state, and the future of the people who live in the community. Having grown up in Conowingo and graduated from Rising Sun High School, she remains an advocate for everything Cecil County.
But she also knows and understands the struggle Cecil College students endure coming from a rural county.
Upon graduation, her parents encouraged her to attend the X-ray program at Johns Hopkins Hospital in downtown Baltimore. Following two years of schooling and two years working at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she returned to Cecil County. This time, her parents encouraged her to enroll in the nursing program at Cecil College.
Working weekends as an X-ray technician at Union Hospital, she attended Cecil College fulltime in pursuit of her nursing degree. That is where she met Lois Lowry, director of nursing, who would have a significant impact on her life and career path.
“She was always encouraging us and saying to us that our associate degree is not the end of our education; that we needed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and to consider getting a master’s degree. She pushed in that way,” said Dr. Bolt. “When I was hired as faculty years later, the director of nursing saw something in me and said I needed to be the next director of the nursing program.”
Dr. Bolt continued to work weekends in Union Hospital’s medical-surgical unit and patient education while commuting to the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) to complete her bachelor’s degree. Adding to her workload, she took an adjunct position at Cecil College while finishing up her master’s degree at UMBC.
“I understand the hardships students face as they work a full-time job while juggling their family life and school work. That is where our Foundation can have the greatest impact on their future. Donations, whether it be $50 or $50,000, have a major impact on students,” said Dr. Bolt. “I would like to see the foundation grow, and my job is to educate residents and would be-residents of Cecil County about the value of Cecil College. We need to spread and share the wisdom of investment in education. It is an investment in the future of many generations to come.”
Dr. Bolt joined Cecil College faculty in 1990 and enrolled in the doctoral program at Widener University in 1995 when she was named the director of nursing. This promotion was quite the challenge as she was married by then with a four-year-old son, worked full time, and traveled to Chester for classes.
“When I first took the role of Director of Nursing it included the RN and LPN programs. Then they added all the continuing education classes in healthcare and said, ‘you are now in charge of these.’ They also put me in charge of physical education classes, so it was very challenging,” said Dr. Bolt, as the doctoral credentials were required for her position.
With this list of new responsibilities and completing her doctorate, her title was modified to Dean of Nursing and Healthcare Careers. She held this and many other interim administrative positions over the next 15 years, preparing her for her present role.
That opportunity came calling on Oct. 24, 2014, when Cecil College President W. Stephen Pannill officially announced his retirement due to medical circumstances. Dr. Bolt, who was the vice president of academics, was asked by the Board of Trustees to step in as interim.
“The one thing that former leadership always taught me when you have an interim job was to own it. The good, the bad, everything; you must own it,” said Dr. Bolt, who also faced personal tragedy as her husband, Daniel, passed away that same week. “This was something my husband and I always discussed; that this would be my next step. But now I had a 13-year-old daughter at home, and this opportunity was in front of me. I took a week off then returned to work and embraced my new role.”
With the weight of the college on her shoulders, she decided to take the risk of applying for the position in the national search. She knew the risks as she had to go through a national search for her vice president’s position.
“It was a risky move because if I didn’t get the position, then what did I do? It was also hard because when you are in an interim role, you are not guaranteed an interview. You have to earn it,” said Bolt. “I felt I was well prepared for the role and held many leadership roles on campus.”
As president of Cecil College these past four years, Dr. Bolt continues to embrace the mission and purpose of a community college’s role in the surrounding region it serves. Cecil College remains focused on workforce development, continuing education, traditional credit programs, and life-long learning. The college provides transfer opportunities and partners with four-year institutions so students can earn a bachelor’s degree without leaving the county.
Being within 10 miles of Delaware and Pennsylvania borders, the college doesn’t just support Cecil County. It trains the workforce for the tri-state region with a higher than usual number of out of state and out of county students compared to other Maryland community colleges.
“We are of great value to citizens of the county, the state, and the region. There is something for almost everyone here at the community college in credit and continuing education. I hear people saying, ‘I cannot imagine the county without the college and what the college does to support the community.’”
Cecil College continues to look for new methods and procedures to enhance the programs it offers, whether it’s continuing education or a credit program. The college is examining how to make the career programs more sustainable and ensure it provides career programs that support the workforce and economy.
“If we cannot get the stories out to the community, we cannot help our students as much as we want. It is my job, my responsibility, my duty to share what we are doing for the students. I don’t think that work is ever done. Leaders in the community, both small business and large industry, are forever changing and we must meet those changes head-on,” said Dr. Bolt.