Barbara Gaba was inaugurated Friday as the ninth president of Atlantic Cape Community College. Her appointment in January made her both the first female and the first African American president in the school's 50-year history.
But Gaba cites a different attribute as the clincher.
"The board told me that they were looking for the most qualified person," Gaba said. She had received a phone call from Atlantic Cape while with Union County College, and decided to apply for the position.
"I love being here, the people are wonderful. There are a lot of challenges in this area because of the changing demographics," she said, adding that "the demographics of the three campuses are very different."
The formal investiture ceremony was held Friday afternoon at the Walter Edge Theater on the school's Mays Landing campus. The school has two other campuses, one in Atlantic City and the other in Cape May County.
Maria Mento, vice chairwoman of the board of trustees, presented Gaba with the presidential medallion, representing the official start of her term.
The inauguration capped the college's 50th anniversary celebration. Atlantic Cape opened its doors to students in September 1966 in Atlantic City, and took its current name in 1999. The Cape May campus was not opened until 2005. The school currently enrolls over 5,000 students.
Peter L. Mora was Gaba's predecessor until his retirement from the position. He had been president since 2005. Gaba will be paid $180,000 annually.
Gaba, a New York City native with a master's degree from Rutgers University, received her doctorate from Bayero University Kano in Nigeria.
No stranger to academic leadership roles, Gaba was the provost and associate vice president for academic affairs at Union County College for 15 years before becoming president of Atlantic Cape.
Before that, Gaba was the dean of academic and student support services at Camden County College.
She also serves on several higher education boards, including the international practitioners board of the Chair Academy, a university leadership organization, and the National Council for Black American Affairs.
Of 19 county or community colleges in New Jersey, seven have female presidents. Two of them, including Gaba, are African American.
"New Jersey's 19 community colleges are the highest providers of higher education. We serve more minority students than any other sector in New Jersey," said Jake Garbman, director of communications for the New Jersey Council of Community Colleges.
"There is a connection to the community in which the school serves," Garbman said.
The American Council on Education reported that in 2016 a mere 5 percent of all university presidents in the country were women of color. This figure includes women who are American Indian, Asian, African American, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern. Eight percent of all presidents were African American, and 30 percent were women.
Gaba has a diverse set of goals for the school, one of which is to continue to collaborate with four-year institutions to help students easily transfer and continue their higher education. Atlantic Cape partners with Rutgers, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Stockton Universities to ensure that students do not have to repeat credits. Gaba said Stockton is the main school into which Atlantic Cape students feed.
Another objective for Gaba is to work closely with businesses to enhance workforce training, to prepare students for the workplace after they graduate.