Published On: Fri, Dec 18th, 2020

‘Time with family’ draws retiring PBSC provost, husband, to Maryland home

By Dale King

Last time we checked in with Palm Beach State College Provost Dr. Bernadette Russell, she was closing out e-mails at her office on the Boca Raton campus and otherwise preparing to leave.  

Dr. Bernadette Russell has retired as provost on the Boca Raton campus of Palm Beach State College and vice president of e-Learning and Instructional Technology.

The following day, Dec. 18, she would, for the last time in her career, walk the grounds of the educational institution where she has been the chief academic officer for 13 years. 

The wail of the Amtrak Auto Train whistle was called to her and her husband to hop aboard and enjoy the trip to Maryland, where they will begin enjoying retirement in a home they had built two years ago.

“I’ve been thinking about [retiring] for a couple of years,” she said on her penultimate day on campus. “We want to be near our son – he’s our only son – and he has a son. We want to spend more time with them – and not just virtually.”

But she promised they would return to their condo in Delray Beach as “snowbirds.” 

A national search is underway for her replacement, who will lead the campus as provost and dean of student services.

Russell, who is PBSC’s vice president of e-Learning and Instructional Technology as well as Boca Raton campus provost, capped a 30-year career in higher education when she closed her office door for the last time.

Dr. Bernadette Russell receives the inaugural Anchor Award from Best Foot Forward. At the presentation are, from left, Frank Barbieri Jr. and Best Foot Forward co-founders Donna Biase and Debbie Ellman. (Photo credit: Gina Fontana)

As academic leader of the 9,000-plus student campus since 2007, Russell placed a deeper focus on enhancing the quality of the teaching and learning experience. She received support from business and community leaders and helped secure a scholarship from the Rotary Club for PBSC students. 

In addition, she implemented such initiatives as the Technology Summit and Study Abroad program, along with Women of Distinction events that recognized students and women in the community. 

Dr. Russell also pushed for a new entrepreneurship certificate and degree programs at the college. Under her leadership, enrollment in online classes rose 43% even before the pandemic.

The Philippines-born educator didn’t inherit the e-Learning job because of COVID. She got it a few years ago. 

But “e-Learning cut into my time,” she said. While Dr. Russell had spent time planning and attending events off-campus – and was able to travel among the other PBSC properties in Lake Worth, Belle Glade, Palm Beach Gardens and Loxahatchee Groves – she has spent most of her time lately on campus in Boca. 

Currently, she said, the college offers face-to-face learning as well has learn-at-home education. Even before COVID, she said, “we had fully online courses.”

Russell came to the United States from the Philippines in 1975 as an international student at Syracuse University, where she earned a master’s degree in urban and regional planning and a Ph.D. in social sciences with a focus on economics and planning. She also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the Philippines. 

Before coming to the U.S., she worked as an economist for the United Nations Development Programme in the native island nation.

While emphatic about schooling, Russell is a bit shy about promoting her own capabilities. Last year, she received the inaugural Anchor Award from Best Foot Forward.

“She has been a strong advocate for the college in the Boca Raton community, and has created a caring family atmosphere on the Boca Raton campus,” said PBSC President Ava L. Parker. “Her commitment to academic excellence has been a common thread throughout her service to the college.”

Best Foot Forward, a Boca Raton-based nonprofit organization, provides academic support and advocacy for about 200 foster care students from kindergarten to college each year. They gave Russell the award because of her strong support since its founding nearly 10 years ago. 

The award was presented during Best Foot Forward’s first-ever Sole Mate Luncheon Oct. 22 by Frank Barbieri, Jr., a founding board member of Best Foot Forward and chairman of the Palm Beach County School Board. 

Donna Biase and Debbie Ellman, who co-founded the organization in January 2010, said that without the support of Russell and PBSC, they would be unable to achieve their goal of helping students receive an education. 

“When we enroll students, they come with a lot of different challenges. It requires a strong partnership of working together to be able to work through all the obstacles and barriers,’’ Ellman said. “Dr. Russell is the one that makes that happen. She sets the tone for that partnership. She is like our liaison to the whole college.”

“Whatever it is that our needs are, she and her counterparts and staff are right there making sure we get to the right sources that can solve our issues,’’ Biase said. “Nothing is too small or too big of a problem.”

In addition to her work for Best Foot Forward, Russell has helped students with substance addiction troubles. She also feels “very strongly” about the work done by AVDA (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse), which operates a shelter and provides transitional housing and other support for women and children in abusive situations.

She also works with Boca’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth, an organization headed by Rita Thrasher that identifies mental health needs and resources in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County and provides education and activities for early identification and access to services.

As she prepares for retirement, Russell said she will “miss the campus community. We have been very close.  I hope I will be invited back.”

PBSC President Parker offered the following comments about the departing provost.

“For over a decade, Dr. Russell has been a tremendous asset to the college, our students and the community. She has been a strong advocate for the college in the Boca Raton community and has created a caring family atmosphere on the Boca Raton campus.”

“As we prepared to respond to the pandemic, her leadership on the e-Learning and instructional technology front really helped us through an unprecedented transition from in-person to remote learning this summer. I wish her well in her retirement. She will be missed.”

Russell said she has had an enriching life at PBSC and has enjoyed working with the faculty and staff. 

About the Author

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>