SDCCD administrators chosen for prestigious Aspen Institute fellowships

April 19, 2024 | San Diego Community College District

San Diego Community College District Vice Chancellor of Educational Services Dr. Susan Topham and San Diego City College Vice President of Administrative Services Dr. John Parker are among just 40 higher education leaders selected for the prestigious Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship designed to develop future community college CEOs.

Two side by side head shots. John Parker left is wearing a blue suit and paisley tie. Susan Topham right is wearing a pink blazer and a black shirt
San Diego City College Vice President of Administrative Services Dr. John Parker and SDCCD Vice Chancellor of Educational Services Dr. Susan Topham.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program – more commonly known as Aspen – notes the program is critical during a time when large numbers of sitting community college presidents are planning to retire within the next decade. During the 10-month program, 2024-25 Rising Presidents Fellows will work closely with highly accomplished community college presidents and thought leaders to learn from field-leading research, analyze demographic and labor market conditions in their communities, assess student outcomes at their colleges and advance a clear vision for equitable student outcomes.

As Vice Chancellor of Educational Services, Dr. Topham oversees all district educational planning services encompassing student services and instructional programs across the SDCCD, including San Diego City, Mesa, Miramar credit colleges, and the San Diego College of Continuing Education. Areas of responsibility include admission and records, counseling, financial aid, DSPS, and enrollment management. Dr. Topham also provides leadership in developing the curriculum, online pathways, and career technical & workforce development. Dr. Topham has an educational doctorate in organizational leadership from Brandman University, and a master’s degree institutional administration and a bachelor’s degree in international business from United States International University in San Diego.

“The Aspen Institute's dedication to inclusivity, integrity, and innovation seamlessly aligns with my personal philosophy,” she said. “I am particularly drawn to the Fellowship's emphasis on propelling positive change across sectors and fostering a community of leaders committed to creating a more just and sustainable world.”

As Vice President of Administrative Services, Dr. Parker is responsible for managing and implementing the campus budget. As a member of the President’s Cabinet, he also provides leadership and direction for all administrative support systems, including strategic planning, budget development, facilities management, and safety. A Navy veteran whose higher education journey began as a community college student in Los Angeles, Dr. Parker has 19 years of higher education experience, including serving as a chief financial officer, president, and adjunct accounting and finance instructor. Dr. Parker earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from USC, an MBA from the University of Phoenix, a master’s degree in Accountancy from Arizona State University, and a Doctor of Business Administration from Argosy University in Florida.

​“With so many community college presidents taking or nearing retirement, Aspen has a heightened sense of urgency to develop new leaders who are committed to systemic change,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program. “Community colleges have a unique opportunity to advance the talent communities need and enable the economic mobility that draws so many students to higher education. I am confident that these fellows can realize that promise—and in turn advance the entire field—by taking the lessons from the highest performing colleges and preparing to bring those lessons to their first presidencies.”

As one of the largest of California’s 73 community college districts, the San Diego Community College District serves approximately 80,000 students annually through its four colleges. San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, and San Diego Miramar College, offer associate degrees and certificates in occupational programs that prepare students for university transfer and good-paying careers. The credit colleges also offer bachelor’s degrees in high demand fields such as Health Information Management, Cyber Defense and Analysis, and Public Safety Management. San Diego College of Continuing Education, a statewide leader in noncredit education, offers free, adult education programs at seven campuses throughout San Diego.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program supports colleges and universities in their quest to achieve a higher standard of excellence, delivering credentials that unlock life-changing careers and strengthen our economy, society, and democracy. We know it takes visionary college leaders to achieve this higher standard and we make it our mission to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and research-backed tools to inspire change, shift practice, and advance the capacity of colleges to deliver excellent and equitable student outcomes. The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization whose purpose is to ignite human potential to build understanding and create new possibilities for a better world. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve society’s greatest challenges. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, as well as an international network of partners. For more information, visit the Aspen Institute.

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