Elva LeBlanc, president of the Northwest Campus, was born in Mexico, Chihuahua. When she was a child, her family immigrated to the United States. She was raised in El Paso, a multi-cultural city and entry point to the U.S.
“We did not speak English, did not understand the culture and were not educated—incredible barriers to overcome,” said LeBlanc. “We held a firm belief in the American Dream and that focus sustained us. My parents understood they had to work harder than everyone else, be open to a new environment and get an education.”
She struggled in school as one of only two Hispanics in her class and the only student who did not speak English. “I remember bringing home my first report card,” LeBlanc said. “My teacher wrote, ‘Please speak English to Elva’ and I was translating her note to my parents. You can’t teach what you don’t know. It was frustrating that I could not be more successful.”
As she learned English, there were more opportunities to translate for her parents and develop leadership skills. She was excited to learn new things and use that knowledge to help others. Her interest in education stems from her ability to empathize with struggling students.
Her mother began taking basic ESL (English as a Second Language) adult classes and ultimately earned her master’s degree. She worked as department chair of foreign languages until she retired. LeBlanc’s father began cleaning the warehouse of a glass company and by the time he was 40, he owned his own glass company.
“These successes didn’t happen overnight,” said LeBlanc. “My parents are the smartest and most visionary people I know. We were in Mexico, barely making it, and my parents said, 'We have to move to the States and we have to make it.'”
Regardless of her circumstances, LeBlanc always ended up in leadership roles. “I owe that to my parents—they helped shape my natural leadership qualities and had faith in me,” she said. “They depended on me to figure things out and move forward, developing my leadership skills and putting me in positions to succeed.”
Her siblings went to college and several own their own businesses. All siblings picked a path they love and believe people never have to settle in life.
LeBlanc married very young and spent her newlywed years working full-time while her husband finished his master’s degree. At the time, they had limited funds so she worked at a daycare down the street from the Northeast Campus, where she eventually enrolled in classes.
“TCC was affordable and I could complete 59 hours in one year,” she said. “I went to class at 7 a.m., worked until 5 p.m., then went home to make dinner and study.”
After graduating from TCC, LeBlanc knew she wanted to attend the University of North Texas and become a teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree in three years, graduating summa cum laude. Fort Worth ISD had a teaching job waiting for her in bilingual kindergarten. She taught while completing her master’s degree in education in two years. She then worked as an adjunct at UNT while working on her doctorate degree in philosophy.
Upon receiving her doctorate, LeBlanc accepted a teaching position at TCC Northeast Campus. “As a student, I loved the professors at the Northeast Campus,” she said. “Professors whose classes I wasn’t even in would help me with research and lend me books or advice. I loved my student experience and never dreamed I could teach there—it seemed like an impossible goal. So, when I was hired I couldn’t believe it!”
LeBlanc believes in the community college model because it is an American concept rooted in access to education for all. She served TCC for many years as a professor, faculty chair, director of institutional effectiveness and dean of instruction. She also taught graduate courses at the University of North Texas. She was then recruited and spent the next seven years working for Austin Community College and Galveston College.
“We were happy that she found new places and challenges she loved, but we were sad to see her leave TCC,” said Janice Yoder Smith, divisional dean of mathematics and sciences at the Northwest Campus. “Her influence on TCC lingered, though.”
In 2006, LeBlanc was recruited back to TCC, this time in administration at the Northwest Campus. “Be careful what you teach your students, they could come back as your supervisor!” LeBlanc joked.
“It’s true,” said Joe Rode, vice president for student development services as the Northwest Campus. “One of my takeaways as a counselor when Elva LeBlanc was a student was ‘treat each and every student with respect and kindness for you never know, they may become your boss one day!’”
Yoder Smith was thrilled to have her back. “We felt like our family member had returned after a long absence,” she said. “From the moment she returned, her focus has been on empowering students, faculty and instructional leaders. She was, and is now, a student and faculty advocate.”
LeBlanc immediately held visioning sessions with faculty to discuss what they wanted the Northwest Campus to look like. She held similar sessions with students and the community, developing action items that turned into committees where people could serve and have their voices and recommendations heard.
“LeBlanc is an amazing leader,” Rode said. “She has the vision required to provide leadership for a large, ever-changing and diverse student body, faculty and community. At the same time, she nurtures and supports her team.”
She began to serve on community boards again, and slowly reinvented herself and the Northwest Campus. “You have to reinvent yourself each year, even on a great year you have to grow and learn and reinvent,” she said. “I have to do that if I ask my students and staff to do the same.”
Rode believes that is what makes LeBlanc a dynamic leader.
“LeBlanc truly gives 100% in everything she attempts. She seeks input from others and is not afraid of change. In fact, she embraces it!”
LeBlanc has watched the Northwest Campus transition from a small campus in the middle of nowhere to a hub of activity. She prides herself on the strong workforce programs and partnerships with the business community. “Our presence at Alliance is amazing,” she said. “TCC talked about that for more than 20 years and now it’s a reality!”
Northwest Campus programs like the Fire Academy have whole regions depending on them for training. In essence, these programs have become an extension of the municipalities. “We transform programs to better meet what the community needs,” LeBlanc said. “We also offer a lot of continuing education. The District continues to support the economic development of the region.”
What do LeBlanc’s future plans for the Northwest Campus entail? There are additional workforce programs she would like to look at, as well as expand partnerships with local agencies. She looks forward to Fort Worth’s Trinity Vision (a pedestrian-oriented urban waterfront neighborhood) becoming a reality for marine creek. “The Trinity River Vision will open doors for strong partnerships with parks, water districts and others.” LeBlanc is excited to work with them.
“I hope she stays with us many more years,” Yoder Smith said. “She is a servant leader who bridges gaps, involves many people and supports her team.”