Taking The Lead

Kaua‘i Community College chancellor Joseph Daisy (far left) chats with students on the campus in Lihu‘e.

Joseph Daisy, who assumed the role of chancellor at Kaua‘i Community College Feb. 3, remains a teacher at heart.

Joseph Daisy always knew he wanted to be a teacher.

“I was so inspired by the teachers I had,” he says of the educators in his hometown of Arlington, Massachusetts. “I knew early on in kindergarten that I wanted to be a teacher.”

Daisy was the middle of three brothers and the first in his family to graduate from college. His father was a firefighter, while his mother worked as a bank teller.

“My parents always emphasized the value of education,” he explains. “(They) wanted to make sure that all of us had a chance to go to college.”

Daisy went to college and continued his higher education by earning a master’s in history and educational administration, as well as a doctorate in educational leadership. His lifelong passion for teaching took him around the world, and he’s made career stops in places like Boston, Japan and Micronesia.

Joseph Daisy (in blue), Kaua‘i Community College’s new chancellor, talks story with faculty and staff. PHOTOS COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI‘I SYSTEM

Now, those years of broad educational experience have culminated in the perfect fit as Daisy settles into his new role as chancellor of Kaua‘i Community College, which welcomed him Feb. 3.

“The people here are wonderful,” says Daisy. “People have been so welcoming. I was so very pleased that this guy with this Boston accent has been so welcomed by the community and by the college, faculty, staff and students. I feel it’s a good match.”

His appointment as chancellor is a venture nearly a decade in the making.

Daisy first became familiar with the University of Hawai‘i System while he was president and CEO of the College of Micronesia, Federated States of Micronesia. During his eight years there, he served on the Pacific Postsecondary Education Council, which is made up of all the presidents of Pacific colleges, as well as chancellors of Hawai‘i’s community colleges.

“Over those eight years, I got to know (former Kaua‘i Community College chancellor) Helen Cox and all of the chancellors,” he explains. “Over time, learning about the work that the community colleges were doing over here, I got to know the community college chancellors quite well and they got to know me. When Helen announced she was going to retire, I thought I knew enough about the many initiatives being done here to help students succeed. I thought it would be a good fit, and I think so far it has.”

Daisy started his career in education as a high school history teacher. He then was elevated to the role of assistant principal and then high school principal. For about eight years, he worked for an accrediting agency. Then, his boss encouraged him to return to school to earn his doctorate.

After accomplishing that academic feat, Daisy began teaching in the School of Education at Cambridge College before becoming assistant vice president for policy, research and communication, and then served as executive vice president of the college. After nearly a decade at Cambridge, Daisy was ready for a new challenge.

“I wanted something extraordinary,” he says. “I wanted to have a real life-changing experience.”

Enter the College of Micronesia, which, at the time, was searching for a new president and CEO. Daisy had never even been to Micronesia.

“No, I had no idea” admits Daisy. “I had to do some research on the college and the culture.”

He applied, however, and the entire interview process was done by phone.

“They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them until February of 2012 when I got off the plane,” laughs Daisy. “It was a leap of faith.”

His move to Kaua‘i Community College is another said leap. In his first week on the job, Daisy made it a priority to meet with students to talk about a wide range of topics.

“What was most interesting and impressive was not only learning about their lives and challenges, but they also spoke in a most articulate way about the dedicated faculty and staff here, every single one of them, how much the faculty and staff care for them, how much they care for each other, the strength of ‘ohana,” he says.

He also participated in an Integrated Student Success committee meeting, during which faculty and staff talked about initiatives to help their students be successful.

Daisy cites the high cost of living, declining enrollment and lack of affordable housing as the main challenges the college will face over the next few years. However, he is optimistic and takes each challenge as an opportunity to move the school into the future.

He is also looking forward to a number of new and exciting endeavors. He is interested in expanding the study-abroad programs, looking at initiatives to encourage neighbor island students to study at the community college, addressing the needs and concerns of older or nontraditional students, and taking a deeper dive into reaching students at a younger age.

But at the end of the day, Daisy sees himself as simply another teacher trying to help his students to succeed.

“As I look over my career, I’ve always been a teacher,” Daisy says. “Even in the administrative roles I’ve had, I still see myself as a teacher first. I think that’s because everybody continues to learn; everybody has something to teach. That process of teaching and learning never ends.

“What I’ve always been passionate about and wanted to do, it’s why I’ve spent my life in education, is to see our students be successful, to develop skills, knowledge, and hopefully find something they’re passionate about and be able to pursue that.”

It’s the same mentality he wants to instill in his students at Kaua‘i Community College.

“(We want to) provide those opportunities for students to get the skills and the knowledge so they can choose … to live life to the fullest; to take advantage of every single learning opportunity that you have,” Daisy adds. “It is a privilege for me, an honor for me to have been selected to serve this institution, this community, these students as their next chancellor.”