NORTH ADAMS -- With President Mary K. Grant leaving after 12 years at the helm of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, community members noted her ability to unite stakeholders around the county.
They also agreed that the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where Grant has been named chancellor-elect, was gaining someone special.
"She's been an incredible leader," Ellen Kennedy, Berkshire Community College president, said Friday. "I think we're a more thoughtful and engaging community because of all the work she did to bring us together."
It was largely due to Grant's leadership that the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education was formed, Kennedy said. The initiative of more than 80 members was founded to raise the aspirations of county residents for education.
"She has a way of creating collaboration that is just phenomenal," Doug McNally, Berkshire Readiness Center coordinator, said.
Under the Berkshire County Goes to College initiative, which Grant was instrumental in starting, he said, sixth-graders from all of the county's public schools visit one of the county's four colleges.
"That's the kind of thing that when I talk to people across the state ... they say, ‘How did she get that happening?' "
"She is one of those people who can build bridges," Andy Mick, former publisher of The Berkshire Eagle and Berkshire Compact co-founder, said of Grant. He added that both Grant and her husband, James Canavan, are personal friends.
"She's an organizer, an over-achiever, a leader in all sorts of ways," he said. "In the greater community, she has been such a positive force in everything, most recently with the hospital debacle."
"Nearly every discussion that's gone on for the future of public higher education, [Grant] has been a leading voice in," state Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, said. "And when talking about economic development and improving the quality of life in Western Massachusetts, she's been an incredible partner."
Downing added that Grant has a desire for a new challenge.
"We're all excited to see what she does next," he said.
North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said he looked at Grant as a mentor of sorts, as well as a friend.
"I've seen a pretty significant transformation with respect to the college," he said. "When you think about DownStreet Art, Gallery 51, and festivals."
He also referenced numerous capital improvements on the campus, including the renovation of historic Murdock Hall, the construction of the Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation, and the current renovation of Bowman Hall.
"That reflects back onto the community," he said.
City Councilor Benjamin Lamb said both Grant and Canavan have become "integral and driving and forces in North Adams," and he expects they'll do the same in Asheville.
"I'm honored to have attended MCLA, worked there briefly, and served on the alumni board all under her leadership," he said. "She has helped to raise MCLA to new heights and set a base from which it will thrive and flourish for decades to come."
Others noted Grant's dedication to interacting with the student body.
"When I'm on campus and wandering around, I see her talking to students," McNally said. "She's so approachable and visible ... That's not the case for a lot of college presidents. A lot of them don't enjoy getting to know the student body."
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Highlights of Grant's tenure at MCLA
2004: MCLA begins new strategic planning process
2004: Berkshire Environmental Resource Center established
2005: Berkshire Compact for Higher Education established
2005: Berkshire Cultural Resource Center established
2005: MCLA Gallery 51, collaboration between the college, city and local businesses, opens at 51 Main St.
2006: Berkshire STEM Pipeline established
2006: Murdock Hall reopens after $8.4 million renovation
2009: MCLA and BCC collaborate to establish The Berkshire Readiness Center
2010: MCLA unveils new strategic plan
2012: Amsler Campus Center undergoes $3 million renovation
2013: MCLA launches STEM Academy
2013: Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation opens
2014: New $2 million Facilities Management Building opens on Ashland Street
2014: Renovation of Bowman Hall begins