After 12 years, SE Campus President Bill Coppola is retiring.
It’s been an invigorating, enlightening and rewarding position to be in, according to Coppola.
With his last day being Jan. 31, he reflected on the time he’s spent in his role, calling it bittersweet.
“My favorite memory is getting to know the students,” Coppola said.
Coppola said he’s depended on students to tell him what direction he should take the campus.
“I think one of the most enlightening parts of the job was getting to work with students to see where we’re going in the future,” he said.
Coppola didn’t go out seeking to be president. Instead, he said things just happened that way.
“Being president was really the position I wanted to be in because then I could reach the entire college, or the entire campus in order to touch and help as many students and as many faculty and staff as possible,” he said.
He expressed a long existing desire to help as many people as he could. Coppola said the higher up you go, the more people you can help.
“A lot of people saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” he said. “They gave me an opportunity as well as an opportunity to fail, which you learn from.”
Coppola said of 50 community college districts in Texas, he has worked at three of the top four largest ones, TCC being one of them.
“In my experience, this is the only one that really puts students at the focus of the decisions being made,” he said. “We don’t just create policies, build buildings and offer classes and then tell you, ‘Well, come on in and succeed.’ We go to the students first.”
SE SGA President Anita Aiguokhian said Coppola collaborates with students at any given opportunity. Recently in Phi Theta Kappa, Aiguokhian said they were working on the college’s budget, which is something they do to impact the college and community.
Coppola’s readiness and openness left an impact on student organizations.
“One of the requirements is that we have to collaborate with the faculty and the administrative office, so we called onto Dr. Coppola and he was there to answer immediately,” she said. “He was very welcoming of our ideas.”
Aiguokhian learned about Coppola’s retirement from an adviser during a PTK meeting. She said it was a moment that left her experiening mixed emotions.
“We want him to go ahead and flourish, but knowing that there’s going to be an empty space for now — no one can be him,” she said.
SE Assistant to the President Allen Powell, who has worked with Coppola for two years, said the experience has been rewarding and challenging.
“You always learn because he really takes the initiative to teach you, train you and mentor you,” he said. “He’s really good at doing all of the above.”
Powell said he displays an important sign of good leadership – letting others make mistakes.
“He’s really good about allowing me to work independently, and that’s important, especially at this level because a lot of the time you’re putting out ‘fires,’” he said.
Aiguokhian said Coppola really cares about students’ success.
“When we go on PTK trips, he’s always there,” she said. “The last trip we went on was to our Texas leadership conference, and he was there. We didn’t expect him to be there, but he was.”
Aiguokhian reflected on her first impression of him and said that she hopes the next president to be as collaborative, supportive, inspiring and approachable as Coppola.
“I was in my first semester at TCC, and I saw this person greeting students in the hallway,” she said. “I didn’t know who he was, but he was just there ready to help students and give them directions. That’s a quality I want to see in the new president.”
Before Coppola retires, Aiguokhian hopes he knows how appreciated he is on campus and explained what she would say to him before he leaves.
“You should keep being an amazing, inspiring leader,” Aiguokhian said. “I’m very happy that you get to move onto this new level and stage of your life. We are grateful. I am grateful to have worked with you for these few semesters I’ve been at TCC. Congratulations.”
Coppola offers a final bit of advice to students before he leaves.
“I would tell students to never give up,” he said. “Failure just means you didn’t try one more time.”