Lisa Carter arrived as a student at Roxbury Community College in the early 1990s after her manufacturing position vanished amid a wave of overseas outsourcing.
Nearly 29 years later, Carter is the college’s associate dean of students and among the honorees being recognized by the school for its 50th anniversary.
Carter, who also teaches, said she opens classes by telling students that she grew up in a public housing development near campus and entered college as a mother in her 30s.
“Where you start is not where you finish,” Carter said Saturday. “It doesn’t define you.”
Next month, the college opens a yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary with an exhibit featuring photographs of Carter and 48 other honorees who are being recognized as “pioneers” for their contributions to the school.
The pioneers include individuals, prominent families, a couple that established an independent school in Roxbury, founding faculty members of the college’s Social Sciences Department, and the founders of the Boston architectural firm, Stull and Lee, Inc.
One honoree is Michael Dukakis, who was governor when the school began constructing its current campus in 1985.
“I’m a big fan of the community college system. It deserves all the support we can give it,” he said in a phone interview Saturday.
Community colleges, Dukakis said, offer more affordable opportunities for higher education, and he hopes one day the institutions will go tuition free.
“We just got to keep supporting it, particularly at a time when these tuition bills are getting higher and higher, and we have a lot of young people who need and want this education,” he said.
For the 50th pioneer, the college is recognizing the “collective contributions of the Greater Roxbury community.”
Jackie Jenkins-Scott, the college’s interim president, said the school’s history is “deeply rooted in the community.”
“As we thought about how to celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary, we wanted to honor its legacy and position it for the next 50-plus years,” Jenkins-Scott said Saturday.
The photography exhibit honoring the pioneers is scheduled to be unveiled at the college on Feb. 23, Jenkins-Scott said. Many of the living honorees have been photographed by Lou Jones, a Boston photographer who was also named a pioneer.
The photographs will be displayed at the college and duplicates of the portraits will go on tour, with exhibitions planned at City Hall, the State House, and other locations, Jenkins-Scott said.
Jones said he is photographing the portraits on campus. Many of his subjects know him, Jones said, and have granted him creative leeway.
Leslie Harris, a retired juvenile court judge, wore a black judicial robe for his portrait, which was photographed in a room with a vaulted ceiling, Jones said. He said he crouched down low and then aimed his camera at Harris.
“He looks like he’s flying,” Jones said.
Being named a pioneer, Jones said, felt like “a real pat on the back.”
“It’s just amazing for someone who has slogged away as a lowly, little, freelance photographer,” Jones said.
The 50th pioneer — the greater Roxbury community — will be recognized in an original artwork to be unveiled in February 2024 during the final event marking the college’s anniversary, Jenkins-Scott said.
The artwork will be a collaboration between Napoleon Jones-Henderson, a Roxbury artist who had a solo exhibition last year at the Institute of Contemporary Art and a younger artist, who has yet to be announced, Jenkins-Scott said. Jones-Henderson, who has taught at the college, is also being honored as one of the pioneers.
The college’s anniversary unfolds as the school tries to regain its footing after a steep drop in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2021 state report found the school experienced the biggest drop in enrollment among community colleges, with the student population decreasing by 35 percent from the fall of 2019 to the fall of 2021.
Jenkins-Scott said the student body has experienced “modest growth” over the past two semesters. The school now has about 1,600 students taking courses for credits, compared to about 1,900 students before the pandemic, she said.
The school’s foundation is hoping to raise $6 million, most of which would go to students as financial aid, Jenkins-Scott said. So far, the foundation has raised $2.7 million, including a $1 million gift from Karen and Rob Hale. Rob Hale was the keynote speaker at last year’s commencement ceremony and gifted graduating students with cash gifts of $1,000 each.
Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond, board leader for the college’s foundation and co-leader of its 50th Anniversary Committee, said he believes the school has emerged from the pandemic “stronger than ever.”
“We are praying that the whole city can take a moment and realize the gem that Roxbury Community College is and what an asset it is to the City of Boston and to the Greater Boston area,” said Hammond, who is also being honored as a pioneer.
Angela Paige Cook and the Rev. Joe Cook, founders of Paige Academy, an independent school in Roxbury, said they taught at the college during its early years. They are being honored as pioneers.
Some of their college students enrolled their children in early education programs at Paige Academy, the couple said.
“A lot of them were working people who worked all day, and they really wanted the opportunity to go to college and get that college degree,” said Angela Paige Cook.
Joe Cook said some students enrolled in the college after returning from the Vietnam War.
“That was a big achievement to get people back from the war and to get them to feel like they were part of the community,” he said. “Many of those students got really good jobs and started businesses and had an opportunity to have a second chance.”
Carter, the associate dean, said the school’s anniversary is also an opportunity to honor the college’s students.
“It’s a celebration of them as well,” she said. “None of us would be where we are without them. It’s not just a single person that created the institution. I’ve learned as much from the students as I hope they’ve learned from me.”
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.