Student Outside Building 2

Presidential Finalists

Two finalists have been chosen for the Richland Community College Presidential Search:

Dr. Melissa D. Denardo

Dr. Melissa D. Denardo has served over 26 years in higher education in four separate states. 

Dr. Denardo earned a doctorate in Higher Educational Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, a M.Ed. and B.S. in Business (cum laude) from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  She is a graduate of the Executive Leadership Institute of the League for Innovations in the Community College and the Future President’s Institute of the American Association of Community Colleges.   She studied international dual-education systems and participated in an invitation-only study program sponsored by the German government.   

For the past 17 years, she has served in leadership positions as Executive Director of the Community College of Allegheny County/Carnegie Mellon University’s SIA Program, Assistant Campus Dean at Kent State University, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Aiken Technical College, and now Provost of the Community College of Beaver County.

She started her career in the classroom as a high school business teacher and has held faculty appointments as Instructor at the ICM School of Business, Assistant Professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Associate Professor at Colorado Mountain College, where she was awarded the Faculty Member of the Year, Vail Campus. 

She has a special interest in the field of critical thinking and completed her dissertation by studying and analyzing exemplary programs to discover features and conditions necessary to increase students’ intellectual growth.

Dr. Denardo led the CIS Common Course Numbering System project for the state of Colorado, was the driving force to bring Achieving the Dream to South Carolina.  She has worked closely with college foundations to author 29 grants bringing over $5.4 million to her colleges.  She inspires and works with faculty and staff to improve student success and has helped develop new majors, tirelessly working with business, government, K-12 and universities to enable meaningful and rewarding careers for students.  

She currently serves her community in Beaver County on the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Leaders Serving Beaver County, Workforce Labor Management Committee and previously, the Southwest Workforce Investment Board.   At the state level, Denardo serves on the Board of the Pennsylvania Transfer & Articulation Oversight Committee and as a member and past chair of the Pennsylvania State Chief Academic Officers’ Council. 

An avid outdoorswoman, Denardo and her husband, Rodney, enjoy snow and water skiing, boating, white-water rafting, roller coasters and exploring the United States. 

Dr. Cristobal “Cris” Valdez

Dr. Cristobal “Cris” Valdez has nearly ten years of executive level experience in community colleges.  He has served as the President of Central Wyoming College since July 2014 and prior to CWC he served in the same capacity at Edison Community College.  At Central, Dr. Valdez has focused on expanded internal and external communications, leadership development, academic and non-academic assessment, strengthening academic and student affairs programs and developing continuous improvement processes, teams and thinking.

Valdez believes that comprehensive community and technical colleges allow people to dream and provide the opportunities for those people to realize their dreams.  He believes community colleges should remain open-door institutions that aspire to both high academic standards and high rates of student success and completion.  Valdez added, “As leaders, we must continually strive for and demand excellence in each of the above areas”.  His commitment as a leader in this environment is to instill trust and integrity, deliver and demand direct and accurate communication and strive for increased partnerships and collaboration to promote economic development and diversity in the larger community and region.

While at Central, the College has seen substantial growth in philanthropic giving and recently received a $5.25 million allocation for an Agricultural and Animal Science capital construction project.  Under Valdez’ leadership the college secured in excess of $2.5 million in grant funding and has dramatically increased the foundation’s assets to approximately $20 million, the largest in the history of the college. Valdez has worked diligently to enhance diversity and inclusion on campus including developing Charter Agreements with the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone nations.  While at Edison, the college secured in excess of $1.5 million in grant funding and dramatically increased the foundation’s assets including a $2 million gift, the largest in the history of the college.  He currently serves on several local, regional and national boards including economic development entities as well as serving as a member of NACCE, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship board. He serves as a commissioner to the Academic, Student and Community Development Commission for AACC, the American Association of Community Colleges and was recently appointed to the Executive Committee for CQIN, Continuous Quality Improvement Network. 

At Central, we have reached out to citizens and key groups including economic development professionals, K-12 administrators and community leaders to better understand how we can strengthen the workforce and build stronger economic viability in our region.

Cris began his college education at University of Montana, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in social work. He earned his master of social work (MSW) at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, WA and he completed an Ed.D. in Community College Leadership from Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR.

Valdez resides in Riverton with his wife Robin and four children Antonio, Ali, Aaron, and Andi all of whom, except for Antonio who is a sophomore at CWC, are enrolled in the Riverton public schools.