The process for selecting a new president began in November of 2011 and included the formation of two evaluation committees - a search committee comprised of CAC faculty and staff plus selected members of the community and a committee featuring the five publicly-elected members of the governing board.
The national search attracted 23 applicants from throughout the country. The initial screening process yielded 11 individuals from which four outstanding candidates were invited by the committees to participate in local interviews.
During the final stages of the search process, two of the four candidates selected for interviews removed themselves from consideration after accepting presidential positions at other institutions.
The search committee conducted interviews with Helmich and Dr. Ralph Ford, the vice president of student services at Union County College in North Jersey. The two candidates also participated in forums throughout Pinal County.
“Dr. Helmich has done an outstanding job as the interim president,” Gladys Christensen, the president of the governing board, explained upon announcement of the decision. “I believe the college will benefit from her experience.”
Helmich is excited about being selected for the permanent position because she has a strong affinity for the students, the community and the employees who make up the CAC family.
“I think we have unbelievable students, talented employees and a unique opportunity to really make a difference in Pinal County,” Helmich said. “CAC is on the cusp of a great journey into the near future and I wanted to be part of it.”
During her year as an interim, Helmich’s leadership has refocused the staff and faculty on the mission of the college that emphasizes student success and learning. Workforce development, job training, internships and experiential learning may continue to be priorities after further discussion with faculty members and staff.
Over the last year Helmich has been instrumental in redesigning the college committee structure to align with AQIP (Academic Quality Improvement Program) criteria in support of accreditation.
She also has worked diligently to improve internal and external communications that have bolstered employee morale and productivity while also engaging the community.
Working with faculty chairs and the faculty senate to establish collaborative relationships relative to the learning outcomes assessment and the creation of CAC’s accreditation document has yielded a positive impact across the district.
During her interim tenure, Helmich inherited a myriad of construction projects that included the renovation of the Aravaipa Campus, the doubling in size of the Superstition Mountain Campus, and the beginning of two new campuses in the city of Maricopa and in the San Tan Valley.
A native New Englander with roots in Rhode Island, Helmich joined the CAC family in 2001 as the director of student success and taught in the classroom as an adjunct faculty member. In 2004 she became dean of students and the chief student affairs officer, holding the title of vice president of student services prior to becoming interim president.
During her decade at CAC, Helmich assisted in passing a nearly-$99 million dollar general obligation bond and creating university partnerships that include the University of Arizona Pathways, Arizona State University TAG (Transfer Admission Guarantee), and the Northern Arizona University CAC2NAU programs.
She co-directed a task force to write the systems portfolio for the North Central Accreditation in 2004 and 2008, designed study-abroad opportunities for student and faculty exchanges with China and Brazil, and developed a family host program in the community for international faculty and students to raise cultural awareness.
Under Helmich’s guidance, CAC has increased semester enrollment from 3,000 full-time equivalent students (FTSE) to more than 7,100 by implementing a student-centered approach.
Helmich negotiated with colleagues and local businesses to create a college and career center that focused on annual job fairs, local job recruitment, internships and job shadowing.
She also initiated the Summer Bridge program, a student mentorship program, online student services, one-stop services at three campuses, and a technical help desk that increased student retention from a low of 48 percent to a high of 68 percent, with some cohorts owning a retention rate as high as 93 percent. The program was awarded the distinction of honorable mention in the MetLife Foundation competition known as the Community College Excellence Awards.
As the vice president for student services, Helmich was directly responsible for the following departments - recruitment, admissions, records, financial aid, career services, disability student services, academic advising, testing, student retention, TRiO support services, Title V Strengthening Hispanic Serving Institutions, the First-Year Experience program, student engagement/activities, the Customer Service and Technical Help Desk, Student Life, Judicial Affairs and Residence Life.
Helmich arrived at Central Arizona College after spending almost a decade (1992-2001) at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I., where she served as the assistant to the vice president of student affairs, as an adjunct faculty member, and as the institution’s first health educator.
From 1984-91 she was a public school teacher in Rhode Island where she also served as an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College form 1989-91.
Helmich’s involvement in the community includes serving as the past vice-president of the Copper Corridor Economic Development Commission; serving as a board member on the SaddleBrooke Rotary Club and Saddlebag Notes; and serving as a past board president and board member of Latino Familia Initiative.
She is involved in annual community fundraisers for United Way, Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Domestic Violence Prevention, Vaquero Foundation and the Central Arizona College Foundation.
She was a member of the Arizona State Chief Academic Affairs/Chief Student Affairs Officers Association, and a past president of the Region I NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators).
She has been honored with the Central Arizona College Women’s Leadership Award, served as the CAC Phi Theta Kappa keynote speaker, and been named to the Rhode Island College Alumni Honor Roll.
At Bryant College, she received the Campus Advisor of the Year/Campus Program of the Year award, was a recipient of the Bryant College Women’s “Herstory” honor, and earned the Bryant College Community Spirit Award.
She also earned the Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students (BACCHUS/GAMMA) Peer Education Network National Advisor of the Year/National Program of the Year award.
Helmich is a two-time graduate of Rhode Island College where she earned her bachelor’s of science degree in physical education in 1974 and a master’s degree in education in 1992.
In 1999 she earned her doctorate of education in higher education administration from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.
In 2010 she completed the Executive Leadership Institute, League for Innovation in the Community College program.