This week’s post is dedicated to my mentor and friend, Dr. Liang Chee Wee, who recently retired from his role as President at Northeast Iowa Community College. He began his journey as NICC’s President in October 2011. Throughout his years of service, he garnered the trust, respect, and admiration of many colleagues, community members, and mentees like myself.
Like all larger than life leaders, no one is perfect nor universally revered. Yet there are a few, like Dr. Wee, who stand out as an exemplar. It is hard to put into words the influence Dr. Wee has had on my life. And I am only one of so many lives that he has touched.
When my husband and I first visited Decorah in September 2014, we fell in love with the town immediately. I was also extremely happy that there was a community college nearby which might provide future job opportunities. However, moving to Decorah immediately wasn’t possible because I was moving to Kansas to start a new job at a different community college the next week!
Fast forward two more years and thanks to that job in Kansas, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2016-2017 Kansas Community College Leadership Institute (2nd class, First Best! iykyk). Kansas’s group comes together for a session in October with the two higher education leadership institutes from Iowa. I was already looking forward to the October session since it was focused on Diversity and Inclusion. Then I heard that Dr. Wee was going to be one of the speakers. My college had recently reviewed an NICC publication as an example of best practices so I had been reading up on the college. When he took questions at the end of his talk, I mentioned this as part of my question. He came up to me afterward, gave me his card, and offered help from his college any time.
From our first visit to Decorah, moving here never left our minds. We actively took steps to visit as often as possible and try to “live like locals.” Our first winter visit was in December 2016 and Dr. Wee agreed to meet for coffee.
Five and a half years ago, I was the director of a regional location for my college. I wasn’t sure what my next steps would be professionally. My long-term goal was working toward a college presidency, ideally at NICC, but my path to that role was still unclear at the time.
Our chat that December was the most open and honest discussion I had ever had about ALL aspects of a college presidency. A job that has gotten even more challenging in recent years. It also felt like the first time I had ever talked to a college president* about the state of higher education, college administration, the role of community colleges, and the weight of responsibility placed on a college president as if I already was one.
Dr. Wee told me that doors of opportunity were certain to open for me. It would be up to me to be ready and to decide whether I wanted to walk through the door once it was opened. Within six months of that conversation, I accepted the position of Vice President for Academic Affairs at my college.
Over the years, Dr. Wee graciously agreed to meet during many other visits to Decorah. He monumentally changed my life through these conversations. Sometimes he simply listened while I verbally processed whatever professional issues I was wrestling with at the time. Other times, he eloquently reflected back a clear summation of what he heard, from the flood of words and emotions I’d just shared. Most of the time though, we candidly talked through issues facing higher ed, community colleges, students, academics, funding, COVID, etc. We exchanged ideas and shared possible solutions. He shared advice, experiences, and lessons learned. We also caught up about the expanding list of friends and colleagues I had introduced to him over the years.
Through his mentorship, I have enjoyed the rare opportunity to honestly discuss the state of things with the utmost trust and without the fear of any judgment. To have a more experienced college administrator to talk to has been priceless, especially in a career path that can feel very lonely and isolated.
Additionally, I have become a better mentor myself by applying the techniques and wisdom I’ve learned from my many meetings with Dr. Wee. I feel the greatest honor I can bestow upon my mentors is to pass on their lessons and “each one, teach one” mentor the next generation. Dr. Wee showed me through his actions that you make time for mentoring and I try to do the same.
*outside of my family – hi Joseph!
Words of Wisdom
Here are a few of the key phrases that I learned and take to heart from Dr. Wee:
- Look for the good, be the good, and do the good
- Eat, hydrate, and rest
- Be grateful for every day – there’s always something to be grateful for
- Every point of your journey shapes you so don’t dwell on regrets
- Be patient and have faith that things will work out
- Relationships and human connection are key. He is greatly influenced by the lessons of support, love, and caring that his parents and grandparents taught him through their actions taking care of family, friends, and neighbors.
- Focus on the person, not the behavior – never lose sight of the good in a person even when their actions are not what you want them to be
- When one door closes, turn around and explore the other doors.
Dr. Wee, as you close one door, I look forward to hearing about what is next because as you often say, “There is still work to do.” Thank you for giving so much of yourself for the benefit of others. The trajectories of our lives were forever changed after meeting you.
You are truly one of a kind! Thank you!
To the rest of you, Dear Readers, thank you for giving me the space to publicly recognize such an impactful person in my life. Who are your mentors? What lessons have you learned from them? Drop some thoughts in the comments about those individuals or words of wisdom that have changed the trajectory of your life.
Good Leadership is Priceless
Here’s a fitting excerpt from the Admired Leadership Field Notes to close out today’s post:
The timeless gifts leaders give and receive are infinite: the deep connection we create with others, the strength others feel from our confidence, the candid feedback that changes the arc of a colleague’s life, the inspiration that enables others to continue fighting through adversity.
The importance of leadership cannot be overstated. Leadership, in its greatest display, makes people and situations better. The Greek word for the gift of leadership is proistemi, which means to assist, protect, and care for others. Leadership changes lives. That is the very definition of priceless.Admired Leadership Field Notes, June 26, 2022