President Barbara McDonald Strives For Growth At North Hennepin Community College

President Barbara McDonald strives for growth at North Hennepin Community College.

Barbara McDonald with items from her travels: a wooden inlaid music box from Damascus, Syria that plays a famous Arabic lullaby, a hand-carved wooden vase with pastoral nature scences from Beijing, China, a hand woven tribal bowl from South Africa, and a throne seat carpet circa the late 1800s, used in Tibetan monasteries.

Barbara McDonald is bringing a global perspective to the northwest metro area, literally. The new president of North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon where she learned French and Arabic in addition to her native English. She completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado, and pursued a master’s degree at American University. She moved to Cairo and married her husband David; together, they have lived and worked in England, South Africa, South Korea, China, France and Saudi Arabia.

McDonald moved to Minnesota in 1997 and joined the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. She and her husband currently reside in Osseo, where McDonald says she has truly gotten to know and appreciate the other local northwest communities and those in leadership roles. She also notes the small-town comfort of Osseo, saying, “I can get out and walk, or get to the post office, grocery store or library in just a few minutes.” Her job at North Hennepin is a mere six-minute commute.

In terms of location, McDonald feels NHCC’s position could not be more ideal. Light rail and bus service is increasing accessibility and she hopes that with suburban growth, the diverse student population will continue to thrive. “Our mission centers around engaging students and changing lives,” McDonald adds. “To that end, we’re looking to see NHCC continue to flourish and meet the needs of the workforce and community at large.”

Serving more than 10,000 students with representation from more than 27 countries worldwide, NHCC boasts a tremendously rich and diverse student environment. “We have several key initiatives going on in terms of student outreach,” McDonald explains, “and we also offer a lot of student clubs and organizations that cater to special interests; everything from nursing, gaming, soccer, environmental science and more.” Up to 50 students meet regularly for the Men’s Black Leadership group and Women on Wednesdays brings together a very diverse group of women around issues of importance. “This year, the students started a new group called Global Salam,” McDonald says. “It started as a way of learning and teaching about Islam and increasing knowledge and understanding of our Muslim student population; it’s really been a successful and important place for dialogue and conversation.”

McDonald says what makes NHCC stand out is the student success it boasts. Some are looking to complete a degree on campus through NHCC, and many students also pick up classes to work toward another degree at a different school. Many of the programs at NHCC transfer well within the MnSCU system.

Going forward, NHCC administration is in the process of developing a robust approach to providing four-year completion with its university partners. The goal is to break down barriers for students in terms of cost and transportation as well as work with university partners to ensure student success and bring about 20 different degrees by the end of fiscal year 2017-2018, where students stay at NHCC but are awarded a bachelor’s degree from the university that offers that particular program.


950+ graduates in May 2015
70% of students take part-time courses
59% of students who are first generation college attendees
45% of students represented of color from many traditions, cultures and ethnicities
27 is the average student age