After 41 years of service in higher education, Rowan College of South Jersey's (RCSJ) Dr. Maud Goodnight is ready to move on to her next transformation — retirement.
Wearing multiple hats during her tenure at Cumberland County College (CCC)/RCSJ, the University Center executive director has witnessed both personal and institutional changes over the past four decades, educational shifts that have grown the College and expanded opportunities for her treasured students.
In 1979, the native New Yorker and current Mullica Hill resident was hired as a Student Support Services counselor after holding a similar position at the University of Alaska — where she obtained her bachelor's degree; her Master's degree was earned at Hofstra University. Goodnight then began to climb the ladder at CCC and before long, she was tabbed to become the executive director for the Center for Academic and Student Success at the College.
Presently, Goodnight simultaneously holds executive director positions with the National Science Foundation Adelante Juntos grant, and the federally funded Title V program.
Helping students receive the vital assistance they need to succeed in getting a higher education, and in life, has been the primary motivational factor for Goodnight.
“I really enjoy making a difference in students' lives," said the executive director, who received her Doctorate in Education at Rowan University. “Calculating it, documenting it, and having positive outcomes – I enjoy that tremendously."
While making a difference in students' lives was at the top of Goodnight's list of items she set out to achieve at the College, as head of the University Center, she also had visions of uplifting the community, as well.
“Our mission is really to help transform the county into one with more families with higher education, more job opportunities and pathways to successful employment within the county," the educator said. “We don't want to contribute to the brain drain. We have a lot of talent and that is a challenge for our area."
Even as her tenure winds down, Goodnight continues to have her finger on the pulse of how the College can make a positive impact for the residents of Cumberland County.
“The University Center became a capstone of my career," Goodnight explained, “that in helping to really hold the talent — and not just hold the talent — but excite the talent to stay within the county and continue to earn their bachelor and master and doctorate degrees. That's the way that RCSJ Cumberland is really going to continue making a difference in the county."
Goodnight has, undoubtedly, witnessed the College go through countless changes and multiple evolutions during her time here.
“We were very small when I first started and we made it up to 4,200 students at our peak in 2010-2011," she recalled. “And, the number of programs, the number of graduates, and the arts have flourished. The Journalism program and the Music program didn't exist. We really have been able to grow. Now, our next step is to reopen as a really healthy institution and continue offering these wonderful opportunities in- person and online."
One thing that has not changed in the last 41 years, according to Goodnight, is the abundance of first-generation college attendees who enroll at the school. “We are still accepting students into this institution whose parents do not have bachelor's and master's degrees," she said.
Many of those first-generation college students are Latinx and of Indigenous descent. As executive director of the Adalante Juntos and Las Vias programs, Goodnight has played a leading role in helping underserved students — as well as RCSJ — reach higher levels. For example, the goal of the Las Vias program is to increase communication, outreach, and advisement support services for first-generation and Hispanic students in order to promote a steady connection with advisors, strengthen academic performance, and increase potential to graduate.
Several years ago, “We entered a new category called a Hispanic-serving institution where we were eligible to apply for additional grant money that we were not eligible for before. All of our students increased in their persistence and in their graduation rates," Goodnight proudly noted.
Goodnight is wholly dedicated in her efforts to help all students and discovered, years ago, that she was being innately guided by a social justice component. “A lot of my passion with the first-generation college students is really about lending a helping hand," she revealed. “I like seeing their talents come to fruition and not be wasted. I'm really about success and about process and about helping people to develop and realize their dreams."
Goodnight's colleagues have the utmost respect for all the transformational elements that she's brought to the institution and to the community at-large. They also applaud her efforts in helping students find their fit on campus, and in society.
“Maud has demonstrated her commitment to the College, the community, and most of all, the students," said Dr. James Piccone, vice president of the RCSJ Cumberland campus. “Her ability to connect with people and her down-to-earth personality are both truly superior. She has the ability to wear multiple hats, possesses varied talents and is highly creative. Maud loves people, works hard, and always tries to lift the spirits of those around her."
“Dr. Goodnight has a heart for the community and truly sees the potential in all of our students," said Iris Torres, Bilingual Student Development advisor, Las Vias. “Always driven by data, she knew the lagging rates in graduation of our Hispanic population were a huge concern considering they are such a large part of the community we serve and the fastest growing population. She understood that helping them would not just impact the college, but the community as well. This in and of itself will have a long-lasting effect."
“Maud believes in building a culturally diverse community at the college," Piccone added. “Hispanic students bring incredibly rich heritages from a wide range of countries. Through many grant opportunities, Maud has led, supported, and celebrated this diverse population of Hispanic students."
“Maud knows the Cumberland County community and sees the potential and possibilities therein," said Dr. Kellie W. Slade, executive director of Student Services/Student Life.
She also expressed her amazement about Goodnight's clinically precise, student-centered and data driven approach in helping the College succeed.
“Maud is truly a data expert," Slade said. “In fact, she should write a book about “Data for Dummies" to walk folks through what it is, why it's important, what questions to ask, and more!"
Unbeknownst to many people, Goodnight is also an immensely talented musician who lives a parallel life as an accomplished cellist. She has played chamber music at the College, which includes performing in the cafeteria for several years before the opening of the Guaracini Performing Arts Center, in 1989. She is also a founding member of the Tapestry String Quartet as well as the beloved Bay Atlantic Symphony, which began playing its harmonious sounds in 1980.
“When things open up in the next year, the Symphony will start to perform again," she said with glee. “It's a wonderful group of people. We have a wonderful conductor and a beautiful theater. It's just been a wonderful experience that I really treasure."
When asked why she decided to retire at this juncture, Goodnight said, “My main commitment was to finish the Title V grant (the program ended its five-year run in May). My husband is already retired. I want to play more music than I have been able to in the last few years. We want to travel and have grandkids to take care and nurture and help them grow."
Although, Goodnight is, proverbially, leaving the building like Elvis, her impact on the RCSJ Cumberland campus shall endure.
“I think she will be remembered for her passion and fervor for always making change and being a progressive thinker," said Torres. “She was instrumental in so many grant initiatives (Talent Search, Title III, Title V, NSF, Achieving the Dream, etc.) that brought many changes and improvements to many areas of the college. She is known as a team player and respected for her knowledge and tenure."
“I would say that her legacy is working with underrepresented students, whatever their background or educational need to become successful," said Piccone, who met Goodnight more than 30 years ago due to their mutual love of music. “Helping the students make the connections needed to build community with others and succeed in their life endeavors."
“Maud bleeds navy blue and gold and made the institution her second home," Slade added. “She was an integral part of Student Services from Admissions to the Center for Academic & Student Success (CASS), to various support programs, to the University Center as of late. Maud will be missed, and students will keep benefitting from her advocacy for years to come."
Goodnight, herself, is profoundly fond of all the people with whom she has worked with at the College for the last 41 years and proudly acknowledges that working with phenomenal colleagues makes it more gratifying when students do “Achieve the Dream."
“The people are pretty amazing because we work as a team," she revealed. “I think that's really rewarding. It's wonderful to be part of a team that has one common goal. It fills your heart. What more can you ask for?"
Goodnight has witnessed, first-hand, the numerous changes that have occurred during her decades of commendable service at CCC/RCSJ, but one change in particular has left an indelible imprint on her mind.
“The transformation of the students that I got to see personally as they stood there on the first day, as they walked in shy and curious, not even sure what questions to ask," she said. “The transformation to when they graduate is remarkable and demonstrated by their confidence level, their ability to express themselves, to ask the right questions, to seek out their next degree, or whatever their next step happens to be. It's just a really wonderful transformation to see that growth. That's my memory — transformation at Cumberland."