This year, as Pierce College District 11 prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the accomplishments of its leader are also being recognized.
Michele Johnson, Pierce College’s CEO and chancellor, won the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) 2016 Pacific Region CEO Award for exceptional leadership this summer.
“It’s nice to be recognized after spending a lot of time doing the work, but I think this award is an indication of the amazing things we’ve done as a college,” Johnson said.
Every year, ACCT chooses one chief executive officer from a two-year postsecondary institution board or state board in each of the following regions: Pacific, Western, Central, Southern and Northeast.
Pierce College, with its campuses in Puyallup and Lakewood, is part of the Pacific Region, which encompasses Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska and British Columbia.
Out of all nominated CEOs from community and technical colleges in these areas, the Johnson took home the award, but she contributes a lot of her success to her team.
“I have a fabulous executive team that’s really committed, and I think we’re doing great work,” Johnson said. “It’s really all of us working together on behalf of student success.”
This is Johnson’s 12th year as chancellor, but she’s been with Pierce College for 39 years.
“I started as a part-time faculty member teaching criminal justice at (then-Fort Lewis) in 1977,” Johnson, 63, said. “I’ve been around a long time. It’s been a long, wonderful journey.”
Brett Willis, chairman for the Pierce College Board of Trustees, said the staff first came up with the idea to nominate Johnson.
“They asked me if they could (nominate Johnson) and I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Willis said. “They were the ones that drafted the nominations. I read it, modified it and submitted it.”
As CEO and chancellor, Johnson works with a team of staff, top-tier administrators and the presidents of the two Pierce College campuses. She helps students be successful by working closely with them and providing ways in which they can find their own paths.
“We’re working on ways to provide strong program pathways,” Johnson said, which includes “much more specificity on the classes to take.”
Johnson also looks at gaps in educations, from gender to income, to see how Pierce College can improve.
“We’re looking at data now all the time,” Willis said. “We want to make it equitable for everyone. (Johnson’s) trying to stay on top on all the trends and all the things that are going on in education.”
While Johnson won the CEO award for her region, she’s also eligible for the national award, and will be flying down to New Orleans next month for the ACCT Annual Leadership Congress, where recipients will be announced.
She’ll fly back to Washington the next day to celebrate Pierce College’s 50th anniversary homecoming.
“Her leadership is important,” Willis said of Johnson. “She’s so active in the community and an example to all of us in terms of being a great leader. It was a well-deserved award.”