Ken Atwater

Dr. Ken Atwater grew up in Jackson, Mississippi alongside three brothers. He attend Murray State University in Kentucky where he earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He earned his PhD at Southern Illinois University.

Dr. Atwater credits several meaningful mentors who shaped his early career, like his favorite teacher, Mr. Pierson who was passionate about being a mentor for men of color and helped Dr. Atwater determine his future professional career. Dr. Charles Tally was another mentor who helped Dr. Atwater get on this career path.

Future Audio Clip (02:25)

After earning his PhD and spending nearly 15 years in higher education, Atwater became the third president of SMCC from 2001-2010. A newcomer to Arizona, Atwater fell in love with South Phoenix, after he adjusted to the “brown” desert environment. He lived in in the area during a major period of change for South Phoenix. During his time in South Phoenix, he witnessed the surrounding business and housing developments explode, and the population of the neighborhoods grew, as well.

Atwater believed that the college success was tied to the community. Thus, his leadership of SMCC paralleled the innovation and growth of the South Phoenix community. He empowered a culture of leadership on campus, embraced technological advancements, and celebrated collaboration. Under his guidance, a concept for a shared community public and campus library became a reality. The library, a unique collaboration between the City of Phoenix and South Mountain Community College opened in 2011. Now, the South Mountain Community Library is among “just a few libraries in the nation that serves simultaneously as a community college library and a public library.” [1]

First Action as President
Future Audio Clip (07:20)

Under Atwater’s oversight, SMCC’s parking lots and campus expanded, too. He describes major changes to the look of the college, but counts increased enrollment among his proudest achievements at SMCC.

Renovations at SMCC
Future Audio File (12:31): “Campus development…”

Dr. Atwater left South Mountain Community College to become president of Hillsborough Community College in 2010. He still loves the desert and returns to Arizona on a regular basis.

[1] City of Phoenix, “South Mountain Community Library:
A Partnership Between South Mountain Community College and Phoenix Public Library” (Accessed 2019).

NarratorKen Atwater
Place of OriginJackson, Mississippi
Place of ResidenceTampa, Florida
RoleThird President of South Mountain Community College
Years Active in South Phoenix2001 – 2010
Recording Duration22:56
LocationThis interview was recorded over the phone.
Interviewed ByStudent Researchers: Paul Carrasco & Anfernee Curtis
Story Written ByStudent Researchers: Paul Carrasco & Anfernee Curtis;
Faculty Co-author: Summer Cherland