Before Darroch “Rocky” Young was president, Pierce College was at its lowest enrollment. He was able to raise Pierce’s registration by over 7,000 students, from below 13,000 to over 20,000.
He is still remembered as the man who made Pierce what it is now, long after he stepped down as president.
“Rocky is like a folk hero here…he set in motion changes that still continues today,” said Robert Garber, former Pierce president.
Young was president of Pierce College from 1999 to 2004. During his tenure, he helped change Pierce’s system, image and reputation.
According to Young’s list of major challenges in 1999, student enrollment dropped from 24,000 students to less than 13,000. Students from local schools were enrolling at community colleges like Moorpark and Santa Monica because Pierce’s reputation and appearance was up to par. Other problems included lack of up-to-date technology, financial issues, negative stereotypes and more.
Young said turning Pierce around was tough, but it wasn’t an accomplishment he did all by himself. Faculty and the community contributed to fixing Pierce’s problems.
Former Director of Marketing and Public Relations Mike Cornner said the turnaround was nothing short of astonishing.
“We’re calling it ‘Miracle on Winnetka,'” Cornner said. “We’re the comeback kids.”
Young said the improvements made to the campus helped boost morale.
“It became a college in which it was fun to come to work and where we felt our potential was limitless. The people within the college had gone from hoping Pierce would recover to believing we could be a great college,” Young said. “People had changed from wanting the transformation to happen to helping make it happen. It was at that point that I realized there would be no stopping us.”
Cornner said he worked closely with Young to improve Pierce’s image. They put together a professional focus group to figure out students’ opinions about Pierce, target specific problems and accommodate student needs to make Pierce the college that students would enroll in to further their education.
Cornner said Young made incredible improvements at Pierce and his personality makes him memorable.
“He was a really approachable guy, a very good listener and he liked to solve problems. He liked puzzles, and Pierce was certainly that type of place,” Cornner said. “I worked in education for 35 years, and he was the finest administrator I ever met.”
Young said being the president of Pierce and an LACCD chancellor were very different experiences as a leader. He said that being president helped strengthen his leadership skills and allowed for institutional and personal leadership, which helped him create trusting relationships with the people he worked with, whereas his position as a chancellor didn’t allow him to build personal relationships with his colleagues.
Professor of communication studies Barbara Anderson said Young was the President when she joined Pierce. She said the sentiment at the time regarding Young’s presidency was a positive one.
“I just remember when we got hired, faculty were saying to me and the other newly hired faculty ‘you came at a wonderful time,’” Anderson said.
Anderson said Young was a social president and had a combination of qualities that made him unique. She said Young’s leadership consisted of respect and equality.
“He used positive thinking and looking for the good in the college as a way to motivate folks to make the college better,” Anderson said. “I do appreciate that so much.”
According to the Honorees page on the Pierce College website, the LACCD Board of Trustees honored Young by naming the park near the Center for Sciences in his honor. He was also presented with a bronze plaque at the Faculty Gala that same day.
The first line of the plaque reads, “Rocky Young Park is dedicated June 8, 2011 in honor of a true leader who renewed the spirit of Pierce College.”
Although the plaque has not been installed in the park, Anderson said it’s in the list of construction projects at Pierce.
Young is now retired and lives partially in Washington and Southern California, but said he continues to do occasional jobs for other community colleges.
Young said he hasn’t been to Pierce since 2014, but looks forward to visiting soon.
“I need to come by and see the new bond projects, and I am particularly looking forward to the renovation and dedication of Rocky Young Park. I will certainly be there for that event,” Young said.