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Holladay Journal

Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin leaves behind a legacy of student-centered leadership

Feb 29, 2024 12:25PM ● By Rachel Aubrey

Deneece Huftalin has been president of Salt Lake Community College since 2014 and when she retires in June, she will have been the longest serving female president within the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE). Photo courtesy of Salt Lake Community College

For more than 30 years Deneece Huftalin has been a student-focused leader at Salt Lake Community College serving in various capacities within administration. What began in September 2014, when she became president of SLCC, will come to a conclusion in June of this year as Huftalin officially retires. She will have been the longest serving female president within the Utah System of Higher Education.

With the most diverse student body in the state, Huftalin said she always aimed to keep true the SLCC mission “[to] engage and support students in educational pathways leading to successful transfer and meaningful employment.”

To “support students” is something that she spent her career being focused on.

A Salt Lake City native, and a University of Utah graduate, Huftalin spent some time outside of Utah on various higher education campuses including Northwestern University, Stanford University and University of California, Los Angeles. But it was a job at Harper Community College in Palatine, Illinois that helped open her eyes to the community college system.

“I worked in orientation, but they considered their student affairs people faculty, which was a really cool model,” Huftalin said. “I was able to teach a little and serve on the college senate, but also have kind of a staff role.”

That position at Harper, although brief, left an impression. As Huftalin found herself back in Utah, returning so her husband could take a job opportunity, she found herself looking for work again on another college campus.

“There’s something [magical] about campuses,” Huftalin said. “People are thinking, discovering, laughing, having fun and testing waters, and it’s a good place to be.”

As Salt Lake Community College was booming with growth and expansion in the early 1990s, Huftalin realized that her time at Harper’s gave her a bit of competitive edge when it came time to apply for positions at SLCC. She began her tenure as the director of academic and career advising in 1992.

“I always feel fortunate that Harper College gave me a little bit of knowledge and a kind of step into a community college role,” Huftalin said.

That first role led to her eventual “dream job” in the mid-1990s, as the dean of students. Being involved with students was always where she saw herself.

“I just love being with students,” said Huftalin said.

Over the years, colleagues took notice of that student-centered persona. Alison McFarlane, who became the Vice President of Institutional Advancement in 2012, worked closely with Huftalin, who was the Vice President of Student Services at that time.

“Deneece is the most student-focused leader I could have possibly imaged,” McFarlane said. “You always hear about Deneece being the voice for students.”

Cassidy Behling has been the Administrative Assistant to the President for the last 10 years, and has watched as Huftalin, who often gets pulled in so many different directions, has been able to focus on what truly matters in higher education.

“Her care and concern for her students is always her guiding force,” Behling said.

Huftalin admitted that she worries about current and future students and how heavy the world is on them, especially when it comes to mental health.

“It takes a lot to break through and come and be courageous and learn and try something new,” Huftalin said.

Despite never seeing herself in the role of president of SLCC, Huftalin said that being in leadership roles has allowed her to model behavior that she has witnessed over the years. Throughout her career, she was able to be a part of women-led communities, allowing for the formation of friendships and connections.

“Younger women are experiencing things differently than I ever have,” Huftalin said. “But I do think there’s some continuity of support…and having lived longer and navigated different things, I can give advice and support or encouragement.”

While in office, Huftalin realized several goals such as, but not limited to, the addition of the Westpointe Workforce Training and Education Center in Salt Lake City and the Juniper Building in Herriman which has increased geographical access to classes and the Open Education Resources (OER) initiative that allows students access to public domain textbooks for general education courses.

According to McFarlane, who retired in October 2023, one of the many ways that Huftalin has been able to accomplish these goals is because she is a “connector” of people and ideas, fostering collaboration within the college and the surrounding communities.

“When she sees opportunities, she’s very [eager] to give them to other people,” McFarlane said. 

Those connections have led to great relationships with students, faculty and staff, and Huftalin said she will miss those the most after retirement.

“…Those relationships are hard to step away from,” Huftalin said. “Because they’ve just meant so much.” λ