Celebrating 50 Years — Moving Philadelphia Forward

From its humble beginnings in an eight-story building at 34 South Eleventh Street, to its current status as the largest public institution of higher learning in Philadelphia and sixth largest in the state, Community College of Philadelphia has responded to the changing needs of the city. Its services and resources enrich the region, yet the College's most valuable assets are its employees and its students. As we celebrate 50 years, the Moving Philadelphia Forward series will share a dozen stories of alumni and faculty who make a difference in ways great and small.

Moving Philadelphia Forward: Deesha Dyer

Name: Deesha Dyer
For Deesha Dyer, Community College of Philadelphia was the first step on her path to the White House and into the role of White House Social Secretary. One of her favorite parts of the job is opening the White House up to youth to motivate them and show them what is possible. Though she may have gone from West Philly to the White House, for Deesha, Philadelphia will always be home, and she still makes time to mentor girls and support youth in Philadelphia.


Moving Philadelphia Forward: Alumni Dr. Kathleen Hetherington

Name: Kathleen Hetherington, President of Howard Community College
When Kathleen Hetherington first mentioned that she might enroll at Community College of Philadelphia, a teacher at West Philadelphia Catholic Girls High School tried to discourage her, but Dr. Hetherington did choose Community College of Philadelphia, and went on to become president of Howard Community College in Columbia, MD. In May 2015, Dr. Hetherington returned to Community College of Philadelphia as the College's 2015 commencement speaker. “To paraphrase the famous actor Tom Hanks, also a community college graduate, ‘Community college made me what I am today,’” said Dr. Hetherington during her address. Her personal rules for success? Always dream big. Never underestimate the value of hard work. Face your fears. And stop worrying about what people think about you; most of the time they are thinking about themselves.


Moving Philadelphia Forward: Alumni Gunter Pfau

Name: Gunter Pfau, founder and CEO of international technology companies Stuzo and MEG.com
Gunter Pfau was born in Romania and moved to Philadelphia at age 11. Unsure of what to do after earning his GED, he decided that Community College of Philadelphia was his best opportunity. It was here that he overcame his fears and found the confidence that would then lead him to Temple University and eventually, to owning his own business. Gunter's advice to anyone lacking the confidence to go to college? Do it.


Moving Philadelphia Forward: Alumni Joseph J. Williams, M.D., and Gwendolyn V. Williams, Ed.D.

Name:  Joseph J. Williams, M.D., and Gwendolyn V. Williams, Ed.D.
Sometimes you gain more than an education when you go to college, sometimes you gain a partner in life. Alumni Joseph J. Williams, M.D., is a urologist and Gwendolyn V. Williams, Ed.D., is an educational consultant and adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Dr. Gwen Williams was a member of the first-ever class at the College in 1965 and Dr. Joseph Williams started at the College the following year. Their story is not just one of educational and career success that began at a community college, their story is also one of building a life and family together... and it all started at Community College of Philadelphia.


Moving Philadelphia Forward: Elena Tsizer, Esq.

Name: Elena Tsizer, Esq.
Occupation: A solo practitioner living and working in Framingham, MA, Elena Tsizer credits Community College of Philadelphia for helping achieve her vision of the American dream. When you speak to Tsizer, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1993 after emigrating from Ukraine, she makes one thing very clear—she is always grateful for the Paralegal Studies education she received at Community College of Philadelphia. Tsizer is a real-life example of a person who started at a community college and ended up going to law school and being a successful lawyer. After graduating from Community College of Philadelphia, Tsizer went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Temple University, a law degree from the New England School of Law and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Boston University.


Moving Philadelphia Forward: Dr. Ji Gao

Name: Dr. Ji Gao
Occupation: Professor of Mathematics at Community College of Philadelphia, Ji Gao is a renowned researcher who found music, happiness and success at Community College of Philadelphia. Loved by many of his current and former students, Gao could have applied to any college or university around the globe, but he has remained tethered to Community College of Philadelphia, drawn by the students and the opportunity to change lives. In fact, his feelings for the College run so deep he became a student at the College where he earned an associate's degree in Music in 1997, putting him into an elite group of faculty who teach here, but also are alumni. He is among tens of thousands of graduates Moving Philadelphia Forward by making contributions at work and in their communities.


Moving Philadelphia Forward: Elizabeth Crutchley

Name: Elizabeth Crutchley
Class of 2010
Occupation: Elizabeth Crutchley is currently a student at the University of Pennsylvania where she also works as a laboratory manager for the University of Pennsylvania Infant Language Center. Elizabeth is the type of worker cities across the nation are anxious to attract. She is determined to make a difference in her community. A native Philadelphian and first-generation college graduate, she is interested in setting down roots here and eliminating local achievement gaps, a phenomenon which stalls economic growth.

Moving Philadelphia Forward: Darryl Irizarry, Jr.

Name: Darryl Irizarry, Jr.
Class of 2006
Occupation: Alumni Relations coordinator at Community College of Philadelphia. As a graduate of Philadelphia public schools, Irizarry, Jr. earned top honors but needed a little help getting college-ready. He found the doors wide open at Community College of Philadelphia, the destination of choice for nearly a third of the graduates from Philadelphia's public high schools. Today, Darryl is working to help the next generation of children growing up in neighborhoods like West Kensington.

Moving Philadelphia Forward: Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer

Name: Commissioner Derrick Sawyer
Class of 2004: Associate in Applied Science in Fire Science
Occupation: Fire Commissioner for the Philadelphia Fire Department. A native of Philadelphia who now leads the city's 2,300-member Fire Department, his goal is for the city to become the safest in the country in terms of fire safety. Along with Commissioner Sawyer, the College has prepared legions of other firefighters since it began the Fire Science program in 1974. This fall semester, 53 students are enrolled in the Fire Science program and 90 percent of them are firefighters from Philadelphia or surrounding departments.

Moving Philadelphia Forward: Hayward Bell

Name: Hayward L. Bell
Class of 1973: Associate of Applied Science in Accounting
Occupation: Chief Diversity Officer for Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN), a Waltham, Massachusetts-based global company with 2013 sales of $24 billion and 63,000 employees worldwide. Raytheon specializes in innovative technology for defense, security and civil markets throughout the world. Mr. Bell created the Hayward L. Bell Endowed Scholarship for Community College of Philadelphia students.