NICC staff, students tout Wee’s caring leadership as longtime president departs

PEOSTA, Iowa — Liang Chee Wee views his work as president of Northeast Iowa Community College as a chance to “lift lives,” meeting students where they are and helping them develop into the people they hope to become.

“Anybody can walk through our doors, and we will find out how we may help that person to go to a better place in life,” he said. “Everybody deserves an opportunity.”

After 11 years at the helm of NICC, Wee is stepping down at the end of the month. He will be replaced by Herbert Riedel, who most recently was president of Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusia, Ala., for 10 years.

In honor of Wee’s upcoming departure, the college held farewell celebrations this week at the college’s Calmar, Peosta and Dubuque locations.

Wee joined NICC in August 2007 as the Calmar campus provost. He was named the school’s president in October 2011 after serving as interim president for about four months.

Reflecting on his tenure, Wee said he was proud of how NICC “grew with our community” over the past decade.

He pointed to the college’s growing partnerships with area high schools through concurrent enrollment opportunities, as well as earn-and-learn programs with local businesses and collaboration with nonprofits to provide NICC students with needed resources.

“It’s not just about our students coming through our doors but about, what are the life issues that could be a barrier to each student — housing, child care, transportation, food,” he said. “When we partner with nonprofits, we’re able to support that particular person and his or her family in a very holistic way.”

Attendees at the Peosta campus celebration on Wednesday morning described Wee as a passionate, upbeat leader who deeply cares about everyone he encounters.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else who has the leadership skills and the caring he has for staff, students and the community,” said Gary McAndrew, a member of NICC’s Board of Trustees. “And I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Dr. Wee.”

NICC custodian Ruth Erickson said Wee remembers every employee’s name and sends birthday cards with personalized messages.

“He always makes you feel important,” she said.

Marvin Ney, owner of Paramount Ambulance in Dubuque, has worked closely with Wee, as Paramount employs many paramedic graduates from NICC.

Ney said Wee frequently called or visited Paramount to check on current and past students and ask what the college could do to improve its partnership with Paramount.

“I’ve never had anybody from a college standpoint do that, so I was very taken by that, … and you could tell he’s genuine,” Ney said. “He cares for his students like they’re all his children and he wants the best for them.”

One of those students is Casey Coleman, who has taken classes at NICC since 2015 and earned associates degrees in early childhood education and general studies. She currently is completing an associate of arts degree with plans to transfer to University of Dubuque.

Throughout her time at NICC, Wee has been a supportive force for Coleman.

“I was taking a hard class that I didn’t like — elementary algebra — and I was reluctant to get help,” she said. “But then I talked to Dr. Wee, and he encouraged me to get the help I needed by going to the accessibility center and the learning center. He really just opened a door for me, and now I feel more comfortable asking for what I need.”

Wee said he does not yet know his next steps following his farewell to NICC, but he plans to continue serving people and communities in whatever position he finds himself.

“I will continue to be a great cheerleader for NICC and our community because I do believe in what we do: lifting families and people and driving business success, and ultimately, enhancing the vitality of our community,” he said. “That is what we are here to do, day in and day out.”