Leah Bornstein leads Aims with key planning

Planning and organizing for community college president Leah Bornstein is something she loves, because it’s a matter of working through the “ultimate to-do list.” And planning is particularly important to her in a time of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, she said.

Leah Bornstein, president of Aims Community College

“I love checking things off and feeling like we’re moving forward and we have momentum,” said Bornstein, president and chief executive officer of Aims Community College.

Bornstein, a Greeley resident who has more than 30 years of experience in leadership and management roles, became the college’s sixth president and CEO in August 2015. One of her initial tasks was leading the creation and implementation of a five-year strategic plan that incorporates feedback from students, staff and the community. She had multiple conversations with the stakeholders to identify the objectives and tactics that would move the two-year college in a new direction and to the next level of service, she said.

The college, which has its main campus in Greeley and satellite campuses in Fort Lupton, Loveland and Windsor, is now in year two of the plan for years 2018-2023.

“It helps us make resource decisions, and it helps hold us accountable to the constituents we serve,” Bornstein said.

The plan outlines three key strategies of empowering the college’s 9,000 students to succeed, enhancing operational performance and enriching economic development in Northern Colorado. 

“We keep students and our learners in the foreground all the time by asking, how does this support our learners? Does this support student success?” Bornstein said. “By always asking those questions and having those in the forefront, everything else falls into place after that.” 

Sarah Wyscaver, vice president of student engagement, inclusion and success for Aims, finds Bornstein to be courageous in her leadership, coming from her understanding of the importance of students’ lives and their potential impacts on the community.

“Leah is dedicated to learning and growing, and she creates spaces for employees and students to do the same.  She understands that learning and growth require an element of risk, and she pushes us to learn and grow with her through innovation and creativity,” said Wyscaver, who holds a doctorate in higher education and student affairs leadership. “She is the kind of leader who moves an institution forward as a united team for the betterment of the community.” 

Since joining the leadership team, Bornstein has seen some other successes at the college, including continued accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and the first year of a new transition program, Aims2UNC, for dual enrollment between Aims Community College and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Her other successes include celebrating the college’s 50th anniversary in 2017, establishing a Center for Diversity and Inclusion, developing new partnerships with business and industry, and supporting several design and construction projects that include the Applied Technology & Trades Center, the Welcome Center and the Student Commons.

“We have some wonderful major construction projects on a couple of our campuses that are exciting and that are successful,” Bornstein said.

Bornstein currently is engaged in planning for the college’s response to COVID-19, providing important updates from her office that are posted on the college’s website, aims.edu. 

“The college leadership team, the administrators and the employees have been readily available and phenomenal in working together in this crisis,” said Bornstein, who is working from home during the encouraged self-isolation. “Things are changing, particularly this week, by the hour. We’re making sure we have the most recent and correct factual information and are planning based on those facts.”

The college, which now is holding most classes remotely, already had an emergency preparedness plan in place including how to respond to a pandemic, Bornstein said. 

“We’re working within that plan and are ensuring our students and employees are well, are staying calm and are taking care of themselves,” Bornstein said.

No matter the situation and plan, Bornstein considers herself to be a situational leader, sometimes being more driven and taking the lead and at others giving others the reins, she said. 

“It really depends on what the institution needs at the time,” Bornstein said. “My preference is much more inclusive to have conversations around topics where we come to a decision together. … It requires all of our lenses to make the best decision, working together collaboratively. I also have a pretty driven personality too. I like to get things done. I like to have momentum and movement.”

Bornstein has been the CEO of a secondary institution two other times, including CEO and president of Coconino Community College in Flagstaff, Arizona, and CEO of Colorado Mountain College-Summit County Campus in Breckenridge and Dillon. She also served as chief academic officer at Lamar Community College, among other leadership roles. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Bradford College in Bradford, Massachusetts, a master’s degree from the University of Vermont in Burlington and a doctorate from the University of Denver, plus an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University, also in Flagstaff. Her doctorate is in higher education administration-communication and leadership studies.

Russ Rothamer, executive vice president and chief academic officer of Aims, worked with Bornstein for about three years at Coconino Community College and relocated to Aims because he admires her as a leader and “appreciated the opportunity to work with such a strong and visionary leader again,” he said. 

“Among Dr. Bornstein’s many leadership strengths, she is especially strong in setting a vision for the community college and her strategic planning development.  She then trusts her teams to implement and work through Aims’ purpose, ‘To Build a Stronger Community,’” said Rothamer, who holds a doctorate in higher education administration. “Dr. Bornstein does frequent check-ins, not to micromanage, but check on progress and if there are any barriers that she can help remove.”

At the end of their meetings, Bornstein asks Rothamer, “Is there anything I can do for you?”  

“Knowing that she supports our efforts and is willing to help remove roadblocks or provide encouragement demonstrates her care for us as individuals, the college and the community,” Rothamer said.

Bornstein, a native of the Boston area, became an educational leader after being encouraged by one of her mentors. She grew up in a family that was on welfare and was raised by a mother who worked a couple of jobs but wanted to make sure she was home in time to avoid raising “latch-key kids.”

“Up and out of our situation was through education,” Bornstein said. “Your job after high school is to go to college.”

Following earning her bachelor’s degree, Bornstein, who was in her early 20s at the time, talked with one of her male mentors about her future. She’d been a student government leader and a residential hall advisor, and he suggested working in higher education. She said she could be a dean, and he looked at her and said, “Why not a president?”

“I had put my own glass ceiling on myself,” Bornstein said. “My whole career has been intentional to this point based on that conversation.”

Today, Bornstein loves working at the community college level, particularly because the students have “incredible stories” to tell, she said.

“I love the people I work with, and I love the students,” Bornstein said. “The people I work with are incredibly dedicated professionals, not only to their field but by bringing that passion to the learners they are instructing or supporting.”

Bornstein’s life philosophy is based on a quote from Socrates, “To be, rather than to seem.”

“It means really being in the moment, giving of your time, making sure you’re living integrity (and) being authentic to yourself and who you are as a person,” Bornstein said.

Outside of the campus, Bornstein and her husband, Joe Findley, are avid world travelers and sea kayakers. She has lived in or visited more than 45 countries.

“We’re definitely outdoors people,” Bornstein said. 

Bornstein also participates on national boards and commissions, including the Alliance for Innovation and Transformation, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, Office of Women in Higher Education and Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education. 

Planning and organizing for community college president Leah Bornstein is something she loves, because it’s a matter of working through the “ultimate to-do list.” And planning is particularly important to her in a time of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, she said.

Leah Bornstein, president of Aims Community College

“I love checking things off and feeling like we’re moving forward and we have momentum,” said Bornstein, president and chief executive officer of Aims Community College.

Bornstein, a Greeley resident who has more than 30 years of experience in leadership and management roles, became the college’s sixth president and CEO in August 2015. One of her initial tasks was leading the creation and implementation of a five-year strategic plan that incorporates feedback from students, staff and the community. She had multiple conversations with the stakeholders to identify the objectives and tactics that would move the two-year college in a new direction and to the next level of service, she said.

The college, which has its main campus in Greeley and satellite campuses in Fort Lupton, Loveland and Windsor, is now in year two of the plan for years 2018-2023.

“It helps us make resource decisions, and it helps hold us accountable to the constituents we serve,” Bornstein said.

The plan outlines three key strategies of empowering the college’s 9,000 students to succeed, enhancing operational performance and enriching economic development in Northern Colorado. 

“We keep…