Following a wide search for the new president of Spokane Falls Community College, Kimberlee Messina was chosen in March to lead the college in its next chapter — more than a year after former president Darren Pitcher resigned amid a sex scandal.
Messina is a first-generation college graduate who earned her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of California. Until she was chosen to lead SFCC, she was vice president of instruction at Clovis Community College. She made the move to Spokane a few weeks ago, and we thought we'd learn more about how she'll lead the college as she settles in.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
INLANDER: What's your first impression of Spokane and SFCC?
MESSINA: Well, just how nice and amazingly friendly everyone is. On campus as well, everyone is incredibly generous and friendly. I'm very proud of our college district, because you've got Gonzaga, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University. It's just an amazing place for people to be able to learn and explore.
How do you see SFCC fitting into the higher education opportunities here?
I think we play a really important role. You know, although there are all these higher education opportunities, there's a lot of first-generation students and families not only here in Spokane, but in the surrounding rural areas. And SFCC is a great place to start your education. We have amazing programs that enable people to come and get a certificate or a degree and go right out into the workforce and improve their standard of living dramatically. We're also a premier transfer institution.
We have a very strong Running Start program. And it shows the reach that we have into the community and the collaboration with high schools. And it also shows the ability to help students get their life started.
Are you coming in looking to be an agent of change at SFCC?
A leader never comes in and makes any changes without learning the culture and learning what's happening. There are a lot of things happening in community colleges — in Washington and nationally — that will make us make changes. But what those changes look like will be determined as I get to know the community and what works best for us. So there will be changes. But it's not like I came in with an agenda to be a change agent.
How will the state's recent investment into student financial aid impact SFCC?
I think what will probably be the biggest, most visible change will be the transfer experience. You will see people coming here and transferring to a four-year and being able to do that, where they might not have been able to do that before.
When the economy is strong, enrollment at community colleges tends to dip, creating budget challenges. How do you plan to keep enrollment steady?
The best way to increase enrollment is to increase retention of our own students. So making sure that when a student starts here in the fall quarter, that we are engaged with them enough so that they're back here in the winter quarter. So that right away is increasing enrollment. And it's also increasing student success and increasing completion of that.
The second thing is I think we have areas of expansion with the high schools. And then we are looking at partnerships, with industry partnerships with the four-year schools and partnerships with the high schools and the local community. And again, looking at the university district, and what might we do there? That doesn't shift our enrollment but actually draws a different student for different purposes.
We do have a really exciting new cyber security program, which is already bursting at the seams. So that's an area of growth for us in terms of the career technical side. ♦