President finalists introduced

Graphic by: Sheila Embers
Graphic Color by: Fletcher Wold

Lisa Avery

Today at 2 p.m. in the Visual Arts Theatre, Lisa Avery, president of the Sylvania campus of Portland Community College, will be the final guest featured in the open presidential forums. Before joining PCC she served as vice provost for the Community Colleges of Spokane. Avery was responsible for implementing PCC’s strategic plan with various partners. She also worked with the college’s international exchange, study abroad and American Honors programs, according to Avery served in various dean positions. She served in a leadership role to students in transfer and CTE programs. She has a doctorate and masters in social work. Read about her on

MHCC District board members will be visiting the candidates’ current colleges next week.

Graphic by: Sheila Embers Graphic Color by: Fletcher Wold

Lisa Skari

On Wednesday, Lisa Skari, vice president from Highline College in Des Moines, Washington, spoke to staff and students in the Visual Arts Theatre. Skari is a finalist in the search for Mt. Hood’s next president.

Skari left behind a career in retail to pursue education and public service because she wanted a job where her work was meaningful to her. “With an interest in teaching and a response to an ad on the local newspaper, I found myself standing in front of 14 students,” she said.

She has spent the next 26 years at Highline as an instructor, then an administrator. For the past 17 years, she has been chief advancement officer on the president’s executive staff.

When she first started working at Highline (just south of Seattle), the staff there was almost exclusively white, and the community did not like the college. “It was criticized for being the ‘little Harvard on the hill,’ disengaged, and elitist,” she said.

Since then, the college has transformed. “Today we are praised for our partnerships and accolades for our work in our community,” she said. The college is also stable when it comes to its budget. “Through generation of external dollars, both grants and foundation … and stable enrollments, we are steady,” she said.

Highline College is currently the most diverse college in Washington state. “We’re 75–78 percent students of color,” Skari said.

Skari said she is a collaborative leader. For policy meetings and when large decisions are at stake, she includes her entire staff in deliberation, she said. “I’m not a micro-manager. I also believe as the leader, it is my responsibility to give credit. If things don’t go right, take responsibility,” she said.

She said she has occasionally taken on mentoring her staff at Highline. “I kind of understand who my employees are as individuals, and then figure out the best mechanisms for holding them accountable,” she said. Some employees just need some simple input on how to reach a goal; others need some encouragement when it comes to advancement, she explained.

Skari described a particular employee as having “tremendous opportunity.” She has a “ritual” every fall: “I go into her office and I say, ‘Okay, let’s talk about your advanced education. When are you going back to school?’ ”

“I’m not going to give up on her because I know she’s going to be amazing and she needs that support,” Skari said.

When it comes to different types of teaching and learning, Skari said that “education is education, and we have students that come and they have different interests.” She said that even technical programs should have some sort of liberal arts courses included in the curriculum.

“It’s stronger, because if you think about diversity of thought, you need to have different programs, different classes, that actually build on developing skills and looking at things in different ways,” she explained.

Graphic by: Sheila Embers
Graphic Color by: Fletcher Wold

Paul Jarrell

Under his pressed suite and professional manner, presidential candidate Paul Jarrell has tattoo sleeves, an affinity for the Big Lebowski, and a relaxed demeanor. At Tuesday’s public forum, Jarrell said he leads through relationship and empathy.

His left arm is tattooed with a colorful dragon and koi fish intertwined among lotus flowers, representing transformation, and his right arm is decorated with a phoenix.

“I like the symbolism of opportunity and second chances,” he told the Santa Barbara City College (SBCC)’s newspaper when he first started, as they are traits he brings into his leadership. “And they make me a badass,” he added.

Jarrell currently serves as the Vice President-Assistant Superintendent at SBCC, California. Despite Santa Barbara’s image of being a rich touristy city, Jarrell said the community of students is very similar to MHCC’s, as both are ethnically and economically diverse.

As a first generation college student, one of Jarrell’s greatest goals is to minimize the barriers students face, especially lower income students. SBCC not only developed a food pantry, but built gardens on the open lawns where students and staff can work and take home the produce. He also said the administration has removed all labels. If anyone goes without a meal or is hungry, they are welcomed without proving they’re “needy”.

Textbook affordability is also important to Jarrell. He said that when he taught anatomy, the textbook was easily over $300. He even knew students who wouldn’t take classes because the textbooks were too expensive. There are now more freely accessible books, but there is still a long way to go, and it is a big concern for students, he said. Jarrell said he is an advocate for OER (Open Educational Resources), and believes that it is natural for institutions to transition to offering free course material in place of traditional textbooks.

A big part of both student and staff success is investing in the culture, feeling ownership, and belonging on campus. “I couldn’t imagine not being in the community, and I couldn’t imagine not being involved on campus,” said Jarrell. He said he is the type of person to connect with local businesses and community, and will also pop his head into classrooms and check in with staff.

After earning his doctorate degree of philosophy in biology from the University of Oregon, Jarrell said he taught for many years, so he understands many of the struggles staff face trying to promote student success.

As a strategy to leading empathetically, Jarrell tries to meet with his employees individually, and if that is not possible, visit the departments to listen and collaborate. He said he understands people need space to do their work and so he tries to offer the support and resources they need and be hands-off. Jarrell said when he originally started at SBCC, “I’m motivated to provide the same opportunity to success for everybody.”

Graphic by: Sheila Embers
Graphic Color by: Fletcher Wold

Krista Johns

Krista Johns, finalist for the Mt. Hood president’s job, spoke to faculty and staff at MHCC on Thursday.

Although she has a Juris Doctorate – a law degree, she doesn’t see herself as a stickler, but likes cracking jokes and prides herself in alternative ways of approaching tasks, she said.

Johns opened the forum with a story about her 40 cattle. When she lived in Mississippi, she was worried that her cattle would be sold for meals instead of breeding, so she took a creative approach. She tried teaching her cows to come when called, to respond to their names, and to do tricks. It worked. When buyers saw the trained intelligence, they wanted to breed the group to make more cows of the sort.

Although it was a novel approach, her purpose was important to her: To see the strength of what is already in place, and build on it.

She said there are a lot of strengths at Mt. Hood and developmental change is good. But, Johns said, “Let’s remember good pieces.

“If I were president, I would roll up my sleeves and ask what is the work you’re doing and how can I help.”

Johns is currently the vice chancellor of educational services and student success at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, California (near Oakland), and said she leads through community.

Her judicial background, with a J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois, and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, give her insight to effective and purposeful collaboration, she said. To Johns, administration is not just rules to be followed, but creative ways of achieving student success.

Johns said she was attracted to the variety of programs Mt. Hood offers, and the diversity of the community. She said she would be “proud to be a part of” advocating for the changing demographics and social justice, if given the chance.

As a president, she said she understands that “you need to know your campus inside and out,” in addition to being the “chief advocate and cheerleader of your campus.”

In her first 30 days as a new president, Johns said she would want to fully immerse herself into the Mt. Hood community, and she would hold open hours to meet and hear staff concerns and a desired direction for the college.

She said that she doesn’t want to get caught up in the operation of the college, but truly focus on the students. “I love the process, but a process with purpose,” she said.

At a community college, “you’re part of something to change lives,” said Johns. And part of supporting staff is promoting an environment of celebration, safety, support, and allowing people to take breaks to replenish. It is also not about a hierarchy or comparing the importance of a position, but instead, a supportive value system, she said.

“We don’t need a pecking order,” she continued, saying that every part of students coming to campus is important.

“It’s more than access,” she said. Once a student comes to campus, from the first introduction at the orientation center or being directed to a class by supporting staff, their experience and success is being shaped, she noted.

When coming into a new college, Johns said she doesn’t want to slash and burn the work in process and replace it with her previous models; instead, she wants to come alongside and see how she can help further the work being

Graphic by: Sheila Embers
Graphic Color by: Fletcher Wold

Utpal Goswami

Utpal K. Goswami is the current president of Metropolitan Community College in North Kansas City, Missouri. He was an economics professor and holds numerous degrees in economics. He started off talking about how the focus of a community college is to make sure every student succeeds.

“People say we are in the education business. We are in the education business, but we’re also in the business of building citizens or developing citizens,” he said.

Goswami said that community colleges pose a unique challenge to educators because of the wide variety of student demographics. He said it is important to personalize education so that students can reach their goals. He listed the major points of his guiding philosophy, which are: student success, fiscal viability, taking care of employees, and community responsiveness.

The leadership model that Goswami said he functions by is one where he works to “create the environment where people can be successful.” He said he prefers to create environments where employees can have autonomy but “not forget that the primary reason you are here is to take care of the students.”

Goswami said that MHCC has an opportunity to work with employers in the community and beyond to create pathways for student employment.

“What we need to do is connect students with their ultimate objective, and to do that, you have to build partnerships with industry, especially for the occupational programs,” he said.

Mt. Hood’s presence needs to be known by the community, he said. If a campus is not a viable possibility in certain areas, the college can still make its presence felt. He gave a personal example of how to do this. At a previous institution, people from the college helped a community with setting up for a theater production. He said, “All of you are ambassadors of your institution because what you do, people notice and then they reflect on the institution.”

Goswami talked about the condition of Mt. Hood’s buildings, most dating to the 1960s or early 1970s.

“Even though it’s an old facility, It’s still fairly well-designed and it still has a lot of functional life left in it,” he said. The cracks in sidewalks would need to be repaired, he said, and there is a possibility of enclosing some hallways “to take care of space needs.”

Most of the institutional budget is spent on people (i.e., salaries), said Goswami: “People are a resource, so we need to start thinking of people as a resource.” If the institution is full of employees who enjoy their jobs and are energized, they are compelled to be more innovative, he said.

“People (who are) at their full potential – will take the institution much higher than the people at the other institution (a comparable one where full potential is not reached),” he said.

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