Paneitz plans to keep the region as her home base as she develops leadership programs and raises funding for the Alzheimer’s Association. Her husband, Dave Danks, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer ’s disease and now lives in a local care facility. She also plans to spend time with her four grandchildren, two who live in Northwest Arkansas and two in Colorado, she said in a recent interview.
As Paneitz enters the home stretch and the search for her replacement is rapidly progressing, she plans to focus on three major goals: developing a leadership program geared toward women and minorities; continue to help the college diversify its resource base with grants and donations; and fight for equity funding from the state for the college’s ongoing operations.
“It’s a lot of stuff, but it’s very narrowly focused,” Paneitz said.
This month, Paneitz will start an employee leadership program that includes mentoring. That program model will later be expanded and become part of a consulting program she will offer after retiring.
“There’s a huge need for that,” Paneitz said of mentoring.
Her consulting services will focus on helping potential and future college presidents prepare for the leadership position. Many people who apply as first-time presidents are used to being the staff of a successful president and taking on the leadership role is a different kind of mindset, Paneitz said.
She will also train them on skills such as development and working with various stakeholders including the community, and faculty and staff.
“She is a tremendous leader,” said Alex Vasquez, NWACC Board of Trustees president. “She would like to pass on that leadership. She’s done an exceptional job of leading the college throughout her tenure.”
Further diversifying the resource base is another ongoing goal, Paneitz and Vasquez agreed in separate conversations. This includes helping the National Child Protection Training Center raise money for its training center on the NWACC campus, finding more naming opportunities on campus for sizeable gifts; and increasing scholarship donations.
“Diversifying the resource base has always been one of her top priorities,” Vasquez said. “I see her as being focused on leaving the structure in place including all the great people (involved in the process) to carry on that work. She will invest time to help them carry that forward.”
The college’s ongoing fight to gain equitable funding per student from the state has been a battle essentially since the college began. Paneitz will continue working with legislators to advance that goal. Vasquez added that her efforts to have the funding formula changed will help not only NWACC, but all state colleges receive equitable funding.
Although her focus is looking forward, it’s hard to not look back at Paneitz’s 10 years at the college. There have been many successes and many things she admits she wish she could have done differently.
“Dr. Becky,” as she insisted people call her upon her arrival, was charged with taking the college to “the next level.”
“But no one really knew what that looked like,” she said.
As NWACC’s second president, she knew she needed to take it from a fledgling college to something greater, both in size and programming. One of her first tasks was to work with college stakeholders to develop a Strategic Plan for both the programming and the facilities.
The college had 131 acres on its main campus in Bentonville and at the time, Burns Hall was the only complete facility on that acreage. The Shewmaker Center for Workforce Technologies opened a month after she started. Under Paneitz’s leadership, the Shewmaker Centers has now expanded to include the Shewmaker Global Business Development Center. The campus now also includes a new physical plant, the student center and the parking garage. The NCPTC training center and new nursing center are expected to be complete soon.
Part of the Strategic Plan was to expand into Washington County because a large number of NWACC students came, and continue to come, from that area. Paneitz worked with her staff to create an NWACC presence in Springdale and the college now also has a presence in Fayetteville with plans to build a permanent structure in Springdale.
A third level of expansion was to move north, into Bella Vista. The College at the Crossings, now called the Bella Vista Center, provides mostly non-credit courses for senior citizens and other area residents. Some basic credit courses are also offered at the center.
“We wanted to have access across our entire service area,” Paneitz said of the growth to both the north and south.
The Strategic Plan focused on what programs would be needed for the next decade and what kinds of facilities would be needed to house those programs. Paneitz also supervised a lengthy Master Plan development process, which included the details about how the campus would grow. The Master Plan coincided closely with the Strategic Plan as the college developed over the years to best meet the community’s growing educational needs.
Of all the buildings and growth, it’s the student center that seems to evoke the most pride in Paneitz’s voice. It was her first project as president and it’s what most students tell her “makes the campus feel like a college.”
The student center offers a food court and centralized services including enrollment, testing, books, advising, records and student life.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” Paneitz said. “It’s been our biggest recruitment tool for students.”
The college has also vastly expanded its programs to include many well-respected and even nationally known programs. These programs include an accelerated nursing program that allows students to get a nursing degree in 15 months; a Homeland Security program; adult developmental programs; a program for entrepreneurs; retail training programs; and logistics.
The college has also developed many non-credit training resources for local corporations. For many years, this latter program was problematic because it often lost money. That scenario was turned around when the college started offering the classes only on a contract basis. In other words, the college only offered classes that were sought out instead of developing programs in hopes that people would enroll.
When asked about her biggest regrets, Paneitz doesn’t shy away from the answer. She said that with the college’s rapid growth also came many issues.
“I wish we had been more strategic in dealing with the growth,” she said.
One notable problem has been the payroll department, which remains brewed in controversy over recent tax penalties the college incurred.
“We went from having about 200 people on the payroll to about 800 people,” she said, adding that better developing the internal infrastructure at the college is something she wishes she could have done better.
Paneitz also said she wishes she would have known and understood more about the corporate culture in Northwest Arkansas before arriving.
“It does not mean that I wouldn’t have come, I just would have been more prepared,” she said. “But you don’t know what you don’t know.”
In looking at the growth in buildings, the vast program development, it’s the students that hold Paneitz’s attention. When asked about her biggest accomplishment, she talks about the impact on others that she has been able to lead over the last decade.
“It’s the number of people that our college has served,” she said. “It’s about making a difference in people’s lives at a grassroots level and the impact this college has had on people’s lives and giving them a chance to better their lives.”
Coleman Peterson served on the NWACC Board of Trustees much of the time that Paneitz was president. He remembers his time serving with Paneitz affectionately.
"It was genuinely a joy to work with Becky," he said.
Peterson praises her fundraising abilities as well as her "raising the bar" at the college.
"She raised the standards of excellence and expanded the educational opportunities on campus," he said.