Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Katharine Winograd was raised in a coal mining town of about 2,000 people, the second-youngest of six children.
Her childhood home on a riverbank in Cumberland, Kentucky, was about the same size as her office at Central New Mexico Community College, where she is working her final days as president.
Winograd’s father, Ron Wilder, worked in the local coal mines and her mother, Joyce, had a job in the business office at a small Baptist college so tuition would be free for Winograd and her five brothers and sisters. While her parents didn’t follow the traditional path to a college diploma, they encouraged their children’s studies.
“My parents didn’t want us to have the same life they had,” Winograd said.
Despite that adversity, Winograd has fond memories of her childhood.
“I remember it being happy and joyful, but we were poor,” she said in a recent interview. “And I think my parents didn’t want us to struggle like that, so (education) was a priority for them.”
Education certainly was a priority for Winograd, who has a doctorate degree and for nearly 13 years has run New Mexico’s largest community college.
Winograd’s first experience with a community college was when she was in the fourth grade and her father attended the local junior college. He earned his two-year diploma and for one year moved the family to Lexington so he could attend the state university.
“It didn’t work out. Six kids, one salary was not a good thing and we moved back to the mountains. But my father’s time at the community college was really impactful on me,” Winograd said, noting that her father ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree at age 63. “He struggled, and the faculty were incredibly supportive. I remember one of the faculty coming to our home and giving him a test at the kitchen table. I would say my father’s experience probably had more to do with my love of community colleges than anything.”
With almost 13 years in the position, Winograd, 62, is preparing to retire as the longest-serving president in the history of CNM. She is expected to turn over the reins of the college to its next president, Tracy Hartzler, sometime early next year.
Michael Padilla, a state senator and vice chair of the Senate’s Education Committee, said Winograd’s legacy will be directing CNM from a vocational school that taught its students technical trades to a smart place to jump-start a pursuit of higher education.
“I think she shepherded the organization into its current name and its current footprint, bringing it into many other fields other than the vocational component,” Padilla said. “She still has a great deal to offer New Mexico and I’m sure even in retirement we’ll hear about wonderful things that she is working on.”
Terri Cole, the president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said that Winograd was both a steady leader and dynamic change agent.
“That’s a unique combination, one that has helped her navigate change with seeming ease and elevate CNM to national prominence in the community college field,” Cole said in a statement. “Most importantly, throughout her career, I’ve watched her bring people together in a myriad of ways to serve her institution’s and students’ interests, while also helping to solve important community problems.”
She called Winograd a “can-do leader” who earned respect on campus as well as in the business community and with civic leaders.
Route to president
Winograd – a country music fan who often weaves the lyrics of songs into her public speeches – was the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, which she received from Georgetown College, where her mother worked in the business office.
Her master’s degree in higher education administration is from the University of Louisville. For 16 years, she stayed in her home state and worked in education at the Kentucky Council on Higher Education, the University of Louisville and Fayette County Public Schools.
She moved to Albuquerque in the mid-1990s with her husband, Peter Winograd, when he was hired by the University of New Mexico. He ultimately retired as the director of the Office of Education Accountability at the Department of Finance and Administration for the State of New Mexico.
Katharine Winograd earned a doctor of education in educational leadership from the University of New Mexico and worked at the state’s flagship institution for one year before she applied for a job as an institutional researcher at Technical Vocational Institute, which would be renamed CNM.
She was hired in 1997. In February, 2007, she was named president.
“I thought I would stay for a few years,” Winograd said. “I fell in love. I couldn’t leave and thought this was the greatest place I had ever been and the rest is pretty much history. I got promoted a few times and was named president in February 2007.”
When she took over as the first female president in the school’s history, one of Winograd’s first initiatives was to make it easier for CNM students to transfer their credits to UNM. She and then UNM-president David Schmidly signed agreements creating “2+2” programs to make it easier for students to transfer credits between the two schools.
“At the time we were watching our students take courses here that they then had to repeat when they went to the university,” she said. “We knew that the students were being put through a very difficult situation.”
CNM expanded, in terms of students, employees, budget and other metrics during Winograd’s tenure.
In 2010, CNM opened its Rio Rancho campus and the Student Resource Center on the main campus.
The college’s annual budget was $159 million when she started in 2007; it is $259 million this year. The college’s endowment assets were worth $3.9 million in 2007, they are now at more than $12 million.
There were 1,882 employees at the college when Winograd started and there are 1,955 now.
The enrollment in the fall of 2007 was 22,759 students. There are now 23,358 students. In the fall of 2010, CNM had its record-high enrollment of 29,948, according to Brad Moore, a spokesman for the college.
Winograd has been recognized as a top executive by several groups.
In 2013, Winograd was named the Western Region CEO of the Year by the Association of Community College Trustees.
‘Call me Kathie’
Despite her accolades and experience, she tried to stay “on equal footing” with students, said Angel Garcia, president of the Executive Council of Students, CNM’s student government organization.
“Kathie always made herself available. …I would go in there and call her President Winograd, Dr. Winograd and she said, ‘Call me Kathie.’ That’s just the type of person that she is,” Garcia said. “That told me that she is a people person, and she is comfortable working with you as a person and not, ‘I’m the CEO of CNM and you are just a student.’ She always made sure to put us on equal footing.”
Padilla said Winograd has been a resource for him during his seven years in state government. He’s known her for about 15 years, going back to when his business, which provides consulting to call centers, worked with CNM.
“I can easily pick up the phone, have a chat with her, ask her a question, bounce a few things off her and get some input. It’s always helpful information,” Padilla said.
At home in NM
Since Winograd has been president at CNM, UNM has had five presidents and interim presidents while Albuquerque Public Schools has had five superintendents and interim superintendents.
Winograd said she and her husband had opportunities to leave New Mexico, but they chose to stay in the state and Winograd didn’t leave the community college.
“Within a year I realized it was not about me choosing a job, it was about me choosing a place,” Winograd said. “It has always had a culture that was really focused on how you help students be successful. And I was so impressed by that.”
She pitches Albuquerque when asked for advice by young people preparing to launch their professional careers.
“I’ve often said if I were young and I wanted to truly make a difference, I wouldn’t choose a Denver or a Dallas or a place where there were a lot of people my age doing the same thing I’m doing. I would choose a place like Albuquerque where the access to power is quick and easy and people can make a difference from the very beginning,” she said. “I feel so grateful to be in New Mexico.”
One of the accomplishments that she is most proud of is how CNM weathered the state’s financial downturn without having to lay off employees. She said she would recommend to her successor and other leaders of similar New Mexican institutions to plan for economic downturns that are out of their control.
“Always keep your eye on your mission and don’t get ahead of yourself. Times are better and certainly most of us in higher education are feeling a sigh of relief,” Winograd said. “But I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you then blow up your institution and create lots of situations where if something were to happen you would have to make those really awful decisions of laying off people. Most of us in higher education, our budgets are over 80 percent people. So cuts to your budget automatically impact people. So you need to be careful. Don’t get over your skis.”