Dr. Steady Moono, Shepherding Schenectady County Community College
Schenectady County Community College (SCCC) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The institution was established in the former Hotel Van Curler, a stately Georgian red brick edifice anchoring the corner of Washington and State streets. Just as the Van Curler in its heyday symbolized visionary thinking, economic growth and vibrant hospitality, SCCC now serves that role for the community.
Dr. Steady Moono has served as the college’s president since 2015; his office is situated in what had been the hotel’s honeymoon suite. Dr. Moono and his wife, Kelly (his college sweetheart), have been married for 31 years and have two children, Micah (24) and Naomi (21).
Edible Capital District: Share a bit about your background.
Steady Moono: I grew up in Zambia, in sub-Saharan Africa, with eight brothers and sisters. My parents were laborers with a middle school education. Many nights we went without food. We all lived in a two bedroom hut with no electricity or running water. But my parents ingrained in us that education was our avenue out of poverty. I received a full scholarship to Messiah College in Pennsylvania and arrived in the United States in 1981. I earned two subsequent master’s degrees and a doctorate. I was always interested in the original languages, Greek and Hebrew, which remain a passion for me along with counseling.
ECD: What led you to pursue a career in education?
SM: I taught English literature at a junior college and then transitioned to become a middle school principal. After that, a friend suggested I would be a good administrator, and I became an assistant dean at another college. People have been gracious throughout my career and pointed me to worthwhile opportunities.
ECD: Who were some of your mentors?
SM: When I came to the U.S., I didn’t know a soul. I knew I was academically equipped, so the difficulty wasn’t learning or studying but making the cultural transition. In my first semester, a professor took incredible interest in me and his support became a godsend. He took me in over vacations and holidays. Later on, Dr. Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream, made a significant investment in me as I started my professional career. I still call her for counsel.
ECD: Talk about the mentoring program you have developed.
SM: Traditionally, mentoring occurred naturally within communities and families. The older person takes on a younger person and walks with him or her through life. Our students, especially at a community college, often come to us with challenges and life issues. The average age is 25.8 years old. Many of them are holding down full-time jobs or raising families while trying to earn their degree. Our students don’t give up because of academic issues; they give up because of the demands of life. Without access to a mentor, they might drop out. My goal is that every incoming student gets matched with a mentor, be it a professor, staff member, security guard, custodian, dining hall employee. I personally mentor several students. They know they can call me at any hour of the day or night, and they do. They know I understand what it means to struggle, and I always remind them that regardless how hard today may be, the sun will rise tomorrow. . . tomorrow will be a better day.
ECD: What distinguishes SCCC?
SM: Our professors, administrators and staff. We hire folks whose focus is teaching, not research. They have incredible passion for the students and this community. Our administrators and staff really care about students and are committed to each one of them. In fact, our school has a food pantry for the students, which was created by faculty and staff who stock and run it. They know that students can’t thrive if they are hungry. That’s a prime example of the good people who work here.
ECD: Best parts of your job as college president?
SM: Sitting with the faculty and staff and envisioning what we can become, the programs we can develop to serve our students. I also enjoy going out and hearing the pride people have for this community college.
SM: Every college president faces restrained budgets and has to figure out ways to steward those funds. What also keeps me awake at night is the success of my students. Each one comes here with a dream. I take it on a deep, personal level when a student drops out. How could we have served him better? What happened to her spark? Did I fail that individual?
ECD: What are some of the “crown jewels” of SCCC?
SM: We have a vast array of rich programs, 54 in all. Some of the most popular programs are the culinary and hospitality, emergency management, business, education, criminal justice, aviation and biotech. When a student graduates, he or she is industry-ready and equipped with the skills necessary to join that workforce.
ECD: Talk about the culinary arts program.
SM: This is my third year living in the Capital District, and whenever I frequent a restaurant, it is invariably staffed by SCCC alumni: proprietors, head chefs, front-of-the-house managers. Too many stars to name! The impact of the culinary program is far reaching. For example, our students are hired to work at the Kentucky Derby each year. We send students, chefs and professors down for the week, and they cater a variety of events. That speaks to the quality of our programs. Think of the exposure that gives our students!
Here on campus, the Casola Dining Room is fully booked two or three months out. It serves as a culinary lab for our students who cook, serve and manage the house. The public can enjoy a fine-dining experience at a very reasonable price, and the students benefit from their honest feedback.
ECD: Describe your work with the rural drip irrigation project in Zambia.
SM: My wife and I started a foundation 15 years ago called Africa-America International Ministries. Water is obviously a scarce commodity in sub-Saharan Africa, and people, largely children, will walk 10 to 15 miles for a bucket of water. So we go to remote parts of the country and dig wells. We’ve put in more than a dozen wells, and now we are working with local communities to establish vegetable gardens around these wells. We also install drip irrigation pipes so the water can be directed most efficiently. Additionally, our foundation supports 500 orphans and helps get them an education. We provide shoes, uniforms, school supplies and transportation.
ECD: How do you balance the demands of work with family time? What are some sacrosanct family traditions?
SM: I’m a dad, a husband and an educator. I held off taking on a college presidency until my children were grown. My mentor, Karen Stout, reminded me that presidency is demanding and that I should raise my children first.
Every two years, Kelly and I and our kids travel to Africa. That’s important because my children have grown up comfortably, and this pilgrimage reminds them how fortunate they are and not to take it for granted. This trip always reminds them to take care of others.
ECD: Describe yourself as an eater and cook.
SM: The kitchen is my domain, and my family knows to leave me alone when I cook. I joyfully do the shopping, cooking and cleaning. That’s how I de-stress. I was always interested in cooking, even as a little guy. I usually make Zambian dishes I learned from watching my mom cook over a wood-fired stove. To this day, when I go home to Zambia, I take over the cooking at our family house. I love collards, cabbage, tomatoes and onions, and I use lots of curry, turmeric, ginger and chili paste I make myself. We rarely had meat growing up, chicken occasionally or freshwater fish if we were lucky. I also love to experiment and try to replicate meals I’ve enjoyed when dining out. I try to figure out the combination of ingredients. Kelly lets me know if I haven’t succeeded…
ECD: An ideal weekend at home?
SM: Kelly and I entertain a lot. But we also love reading and working on our foundation. We love the trails along the Mohawk River. I repair my own cars and have a couple of motorcycles and go out for rides, exploring different communities. I’m working on a novel so I carve out time for the painful, creative process of writing.
Overall, I know I am privileged and God has been very good to me. But at the end of the day I must ask myself, what have I done with the blessings I have received?
FIVE RAPID FIRE
ECD: Breakfast today?
SM: I don’t eat breakfast because we never ate it growing up.
ECD: Favorite childhood meal?
SM: Beef, when we could afford it, served with vegetables and rice.
ECD: Cake, pie or cookies?
SM: I didn’t know what dessert was before coming to the U.S. If you cook a great meal, who needs dessert?
ECD: Guilty pleasure?
SM: Beef. I never could get enough of it as a kid.
ECD: Late-night snack?
SM: Peanuts or a banana.