School starts for Pierce College Puyallup students Sept. 24, and the community college’s new president is ready to go.
Dr. Darrell Cain, the former vice chancellor of community affairs for Ivy Technical Community College in Indianapolis was announced the new president for Pierce College Puyallup in May. He arrived in Puyallup in August.
In preparation for the start of the new year, Cain answered The Puyallup Herald’s questions about college affordability, student retention and some new projects he’s looking forward to starting.
Q: As the new president of Pierce College, what are your immediate plans and goals for the college and its students?
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A: Currently, I am spending much of my time meeting with various constituent groups, learning about their needs, opportunities and challenges. I am learning a lot by having these conversations, which will allow me to prioritize how I will spend my next hundred days.
I believe there are many opportunities to strengthen collaborations with the community of Puyallup and Pierce County. Therefore, I am meeting with a variety of external constituents, such as chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, employers and civic organizations. It is vital that the college is indeed an extension of the community in which we reside.
I am also having conversations with our K-12 partners to identify how we can build upon the momentum to provide educational opportunities for all of our residents.
I am meeting with the Pierce College internal staff members and departments to glean a better understanding of their programs and to identify how I can best support them.
Q: What are your long-range plans and goals?
Several of my goals match the college’s core themes, which focus on community engagement, student access, excellence and continuous quality improvement, promoting and supporting equity diversity and inclusion, and supporting student learning and success. I believe that all of these themes are critical to the success of our students, employees and community. Pierce College is a Top 10 institution, and it is essential that we demonstrate that in all aspects of the college.
Additional projects I will spend time focusing on include the development of a senior emeritus program, which will benefit our new neighbors, the Wesley Homes Bradley Park Senior housing complex.
I believe we have a beautiful campus in a picturesque, natural setting that is unparalleled to other colleges I have visited. I want to spend time enhancing the beautification of the campus to create a memorable experience for all of our students, faculty, staff and visitors. We have several capital projects in the plans, including a new STEM building. I also met with our facilities and grounds team to look at some small projects that we can accomplish in the immediate future.
We have been making significant progress by increasing our graduation rates and have set a goal of reaching a 45-percent, three-year student completion rate. However, we do have some affinity groups that are not on par, such as our African-American male and single-parent students. Therefore, I will be spending time making sure that we close the achievement gaps with these populations.
Q: What lessons did you learn at your previous job that you’re bringing here?
A: I have worked at a variety of colleges and universities, which has provided me with experience and exposure to a range of programs and services, such as enrollment management, student retention and success, workforce development, and community advancement. Therefore, I will be spending time examining if some of the promising practices that I learned match the needs of Pierce College and its community. It is important that I don’t make any assumptions of placing these programs into a box and hoping that the same results emerge. The institutional cultures are different at each of the colleges and universities I previously worked at, so I will spend time evaluating which ones provide the best opportunity for success.
More importantly is that I will bring lifelong leadership lessons I have learned to help create a shared vision by encouraging and inspiring success for all. I often take the stance of a commonsense leadership style, which I learned from my parents:
- Be fair and ethical
- Lead by example
- Be honest and transparent
- Remain humble
- Have a heart (compassion, love, empathy)
- Be willing to listen to others
- Empower others to lead
I believe that sometimes utilizing some of the basic concepts you learned as a child prepares you to deal with some of the most challenging situations you endure in life.
Q: In your short time with Pierce College, what have you learned that surprised you?
Pierce College has been recognized for the Aspen Award, which recognizes the highestt level of achievement and performance among America’s community colleges. The fact that Pierce College has been named as a Top 10 nominee is a significant achievement within itself. I’ve learned that the college faculty and staff truly embrace the concept of student success, and it is ingrained in the institutional culture.
A fun fact that I learned is that the Raider bird used to be a man. Several years ago students voted to change the male mascot to a bird.
Q: Do you have ideas for helping students afford college?
A: First, I believe that the Running Start program makes college accessible for all. Having the ability to take classes while in high school during your junior and senior year allows for fewer credit hours are taken after a student has received his or her diploma. It’s important that we continue to share the significance and value of this program and make it accessible for all communities, including communities that may be located in rural areas. We are doing just that by partnering with the Bethel School District and offering classes at Graham-Kapowsin High School.
Second, we must keep our tuition at a cost-effective rate so that we do not price students out of the market.
Lastly, we must keep instructional support costs affordable for all. We know that books are the second most expensive item for students. Therefore, we must keep the cost of books at an affordable rate. One of the strategies we are focusing on at Pierce College is the offering of open educational resources, open materials that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share. We are also working with our bookstore and distributors to offer book rentals and electronic books, which are more affordable for our students.
Q: How can Pierce College attract and retain both instructors and students of color?
A: I believe Pierce College is a great college any person would desire to work at because of the great programs and services it offers. The professional development training opportunities are renown and robust, providing an opportunity for all to succeed. One of the strategic themes and values of the college is its commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion. Since I’ve been in my position, this commitment has not wavered.
With that being said, that does not mean that we should not strive to improve attracting quality faculty and staff regardless of race. However, race does play a role in recruiting and retaining faculty and students of color.
I don’t think there is one simple formula, but I believe that reaching out to faculty and staff of color outside of the state of Washington presents an opportunity when there are low percentages of ethnic populations to draw from within a geographical region. Even if we recruit them, there must be a plan of action to retain them. This means providing mentorship and support programs that will give them the best opportunity to succeed.
As for students, 35 percent of our student body is of color. This demographic shift has continued to grow and has increased by 5 percent in just the past five years. Some minority populations are progressing better than others. It is vital that we provide an opportunity for all students to succeed, but when the equity scale is not level, reinforcement must be put into place by offering additional programs and services to allow those students to feel integrated and embraced within the college learning community. I will be spending the next few months assessing our equity gaps and collaborating with our students, faculty and staff to determine which programs and services provide the most vitality for our students to thrive.
Q: How did you learn to pronounce Puyallup?
A: I learned to pronounce Puyallup by searching for some videos on YouTube. There was a campus tour video that I watched, and I listen to the staff members pronounce the city name. I am a visual and auditory learner, so I had to watch and listen to the video a few times before learning how to pronounciate it correctly.