Retiring president reflects on her legacy and time at Delta College

The definition of a pioneer is a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new area. When Dr. Jean Goodnow joined Delta College in 2005, she pioneered a new path as the college’s first woman president.

Over her 16-year role as president, Goodnow led the college through tremendous growth, shook thousands of hands at graduation, and positioned the college as a leader in teaching excellence, innovation and sustainability.

The following Q&A was featured in Delta College’s latest Pioneer Spirit publication, which can be viewed in its entirety online here.

Q: With your retirement in August, what are you most proud of as you look back on your time at Delta College?

A: As simple as it may seem, I am most proud of leading a college that continues, with much pride and enthusiasm, Delta’s mission to provide a quality education for people in our community. It’s been an incredible opportunity to lead a college that continues to think outside of the box and strives to create a wonderful experience for our students.

I’m also proud that we instituted sustainability as a theme throughout the college, which touches social justice, economic and environmental areas. As a result, we’ve been recognized as a national leader in sustainability in higher education. I’m also pleased to work with a team that increased dual enrollment. We reached a major milestone several years ago when we reached 1,200 dual enrollment students.

I feel really good about Delta’s emphasis on the humanities, arts, music and history. You can see it in our programs, study abroad opportunities and on campus. The Sculpture Walk is one of my favorite examples. It’s important for all students to have the opportunity to appreciate the arts.

On the flip side, I’m grateful for the opportunity to expand our athletics program and renovate the Pioneer Gym for students to be able to host and participate in regional tournaments.

Q: You’ve said your favorite time of year is celebrating students at commencement. What other student memories do you cherish?

A: I get goosebumps talking about graduation because it’s not only a culmination of our students’ hard work, but it’s also a result of our faculty and staff members’ dedication to help students get there. I adore the nursing pinning ceremony too. Many students have had rough roads, and they sometimes talk about those experiences. Everyone’s story is inspiring.

Any event where I get to talk with students is special to me. A few years ago, I met a group of honors students while volunteering at a walkathon event in Bay City. We walked and talked, and it was great fun to get to know them. I’ve invited student leaders to the Farmhouse over the years to discuss leadership and share stories about my own upbringing and experiences as a first-generation student who struggled with poverty.

Cheering for our very talented athletes on the court and field, and meeting their families, are some of my favorite memories too.

Q: As you reflect on the past 16 years, share some highlights from your time at Delta.

A: Early on when I joined Delta, Habitat for Humanity in Saginaw asked if a team from Delta wanted to help with a build. One Saturday morning, about 15 of us painted a house together. It was a wonderful bonding experience and it stands out because it was one of the first opportunities to really connect with faculty and staff and get to know them one-on-one.

The opportunity to travel to Paris as one of 12 American Fulbright Scholars was an incredible professional development experience. I met new people, shared best practices and made new connections. I’m interested in genealogy, so the experience was special because family stories say my great-grandmother, who came to America as an orphan, originally came from France.

There was that one time when I joined others in a dance-off in front of hundreds of faculty and staff members. It was nerve wracking, and a blast!

Q: You’ve had a successful career in higher education. What would you say to Pioneers pursuing professional goals?

A: Be a lifelong learner, volunteer for new assignments, network with colleagues, find good mentors that you respect, get involved, be persistent and most importantly, take care of yourself. Try to keep a positive mindset and take care of your mind, body and soul.

My spiritual life is important and I try to surround myself with people who make me laugh and have a positive outlook on life.

Q: That is great advice for anyone, including first-generation college students, like yourself. Who supported you along the way?

A: Many people helped me, especially my grandmother. She raised me, and always used to say, “No matter what kind of disagreements you get into, always remember there is good in people. Always remember to listen and don’t give up on people.” She would also tell me to, “Keep the faith,” which is a short, but powerful, mantra that I keep with me.

Q: What are your retirement plans?

A: Play more golf! I’m looking forward to spending time with my family. My son lives in Las Vegas and my nephew and other close relatives live in Iowa, so I plan to safely spend time with them. I also want to visit Alaska – the only state I haven’t visited yet – and do some travel in Europe when it is safe to do so.

Q: What would you say to your successor?

A: Delta College is a gem with outstanding people and a community that supports and embraces it. I encourage this person to continue to enhance the college through new and innovative ways to serve our students and our community.

I would also tell this person that if there’s anything I can do, I’ll be there because I care for Delta and I want its new president to succeed.

The following timeline breaks down some of the highlights from Goodnow’s time at Delta College.


  • Board of Trustees appoints Goodnow as college’s fourth, and first woman, president.
  • Elected to the American Association of Community Colleges Board of Directors.
  • Receives the Community College Alliance 2005 Leadership Award.


  • The League for Innovation reaffirms Delta as Board member, a position held since 1968.
  • Welcomes visitors from Tracom College and the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology in Nakuru, Kenya, Delta’s sister colleges since 1991.


  • Delta named one of the top 10 “tech-savvy” community colleges in the country.
  • Delta is early signer of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.


  • Completion of south campus stormwater management project.
  • Served on AACC Sustainability Task Force and Commission on Diversity, Inclusion & Equity.


  • Delta receives recognition in “Great Colleges to Work For” survey by Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Launched Digital Film Production and Wind Turbine Technology programs.


  • Vice President Joe Biden visits Delta to commend college for being job training hub.
  • Receives Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from the Black Faculty and Staff Association.
  • Receives Second Nature’s Annual Climate Leadership Award.
  • Delta joins Achieving the Dream initiative to improve student success.
  • Record enrollment of 11,787 students.


  • Sculpture Walk opens as part of the college’s 50th anniversary.
  • Central courtyard reopens after remodel.
  • Delta and Dow Chemical partner to ship essential medical equipment to Kenya.
  • Delta joins the Democracy Commitment initiative. Receives YWCA Women of Achievement Award.


  • Delta College named a Top 120 Community Colleges in nation by the Aspen Institute.


  • Renovated Health Professions Building opens.
  • Receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from Saginaw County NAACP.


  • Receives Governance Award from Delta’s American Association of University Professors.
  • Named Board Chair of the League for Innovation in the Community College.


  • Renovated Computer Numerical Control (CNC) and Chemical Processing labs open.
  • Delta College receives gold ranking in the veteran-friendly school program by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.


  • Secures $4 million contribution to launch the STEM Explorer.
  • Delta partners with MSU’s Institute of Agricultural Technology to offer an agriculture certificate that can transfer to MSU.


  • Men’s baseball finishes fifth in country after making first trip to a World Series.


  • Delta receives the Climate Leadership Award by Second Nature and the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Chosen to travel to France as one of 12 American Fulbright international education administrators.
  • Receives the Athena Award from the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.


  • Downtown Saginaw Center opens.
  • Delta named a top community college for sustainability by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
  • Delta joins the City of Flint and the EPA to train Flint high school students to work in the water utility industry.
  • Women’s soccer places second in the nation at the 2019 NJCAA Division III National Tournament.


  • Delta passes millage renewal with a winning margin of 59%, becomes second successful millage renewal under Goodnow’s leadership.
  • Chocolate Affair fundraiser celebrates its 30th anniversary through a virtual event.
  • Delta places sixth in the nation in private fundraising efforts among community colleges, having raised $6.8 million in 2019.


  • Downtown Midland Center opens.
  • Delta partners with Bay County Health Department to provide thousands of COVID-19 vaccinations to community.
  • Foundation’s endowment value is over $34 million, which is an increase of 343 percent, up from $9.9 million in 2009.
  • Dr. Jean Goodnow retires.