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A Q&A with Julie Huckestein, Chemeketa’s president

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By Byron Kimball

Julie Huckestein, Chemeketa’s chief financial officer, accepted a position as interim college president at the tail end of spring term.

We recently sat down with Huckestein to go over her thoughts about her new role.

Courier: So how have your first three months as interim president been?

JH: It’s been exhilarating. … It’s been a great learning experience. As chief financial officer, my role was in departments of college services. What I’ve been doing now, as interim president, is working with instructional offices and students. … I feel very supported by the staff around here. It makes it a lot easier. We have a great community.

C: This must be a huge change. Tell us something about the role that’s surprised you.

JH: It has to be the number of invitations I’m receiving (laughs). Business conferences, meetings with educational leaders … people want to talk to me, which is surprising because as vice president CFO, I was more in the background. People only contacted me when there was an emergency (laughs). You know, we’d be discussing the budget, how things were going, changes in tuition. … It was a pretty low profile job.

C: It has to be a huge shift in gears.

JH: I think it’s helped though because I’ve been at Chemeketa for 13 years. … I know people, and you can make those connections and get out there.

C: How does this compare to your experiences as a CFO?

JH: It’s a lot more public. … People really pay attention to what I say and do. Not that they didn’t before, but now people look more to me for change. I actually forget my position sometimes (laughs) because to me, I’m still part of the team.

C: So what drew you to working at Chemeketa?

JH: I came to Chemeketa 13 years ago, and I worked at Linn-Benton Community college for 14 years before that. I was drawn to Chemeketa because it was a larger organization, and I knew that there might be opportunity here. I wanted a change. Starting out, I learned a lot about myself and my abilities. When I came here, I started as director of business services so I’ve worked across the board. I came to a similar position here, but being a bigger campus, it was a whole set of different responsibilities. I get excited by doing new things. I consider it a learning opportunity.

C: Right.

JH: When you change from one college to another, you really have to learn the culture of the other. But education is such a great place to be able to work because we’re dedicated to helping students. And when you do that, you’re helping the future.

C: Is there anything that still surprises you about Chemeketa as a community?

JH: I can’t say anything still surprises me, but it enlightens me because what happens is that every term there’s this general sense of excitement. And that’s what’s great about working at a community college: Every term, you get to be with people who want to do something with their lives. They’re excited about being here.

C: What’s something you like to do when you’re not at Chemeketa?

JH: I have two grandchildren, and I love to spend time with them. I’m very family oriented. I’m a native Oregonian, so my husband and I love camping. I love to read. And I’m starting to learn how to kayak. I like to cook, too, but I don’t get to do that much anymore. Everyone has busy lives.

C: What’s something about you that most people don’t know?

JH: I’m a first-generation college student, the first one to graduate in my family.

C: Do you have a favorite story about your time about Chemeketa?

JH: Let’s see … we just had kick-off week. It was fun to watch the Storm extravaganza … and a staff bowling game. People dress up in costumes, and I was part of the Wannabees. We were bumblebees, and I was Jewel. My real name was Jewel. That’s another thing most people don’t know about me. Julie always stuck.

C: You sound optimistic. It’s important to be optimistic; it makes it easier to get by every day.

JH: Well, thank you. I appreciate you sitting down with me.

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