Chemeketa administrator Don Brase moves up, successor chosen
In January of this year, Don Brase got the call he’d been hoping for.
After 25 years at Chemeketa Community College, he had secured the Executive Dean of General Education and Transfer Studies (GETS) position. He transitioned in February, and only two months later, Brase and a search committee chose his successor. Keith Russell II, the current Academic Dean of Georgia Military College’s Valdosta Campus, will join the staff in June as the new Dean of Liberal Arts.
Brase never expected to one day become an Executive Dean. He started at Chemeketa in 1993 as a part-time English instructor and tutor in the Writing Center, having just moved back to the Northwest from Montana with his family. Nine years later, he became Dean of Liberal Arts, then referred to as the Associate Dean of Humanities and Communication.
However, his administrative legacy did not start there.
“I know for a while I was over at the Writing Center and I was program chair, and what I found is I really liked to be involved in things where decisions are being made. And, so, I kept involving myself, and I wouldn’t say it was accidental, but it really put me on a trajectory to be in leadership when I did that.”
Brase applied for Executive Dean of GETS in December, after David Hallet vacated the job and replaced Andrew Bone as Vice President of Governance and Administration. In his old position, Brase at one point managed around 41 full-time employees in his department, in addition to some 80 adjunct or part-time workers. Now, he has only five direct-reports, all deans of their respective areas, one of which will be Russell.
Comparing his old job to that of a high school principal and his recent promotion to that of a superintendent, Brase said that despite the title difference, he hasn’t found either one more difficult than the other. They just have distinct responsibilities.
“Rather than working with faculty and students so much, I’m now working with the board and other executive deans and working at the state level, so it’s different issues, some of which can be more consequential to this school as a whole,” Brase said. “Which sometimes makes it a weightier decision on things, but in other ways, just on how much work load there is on the dean level … I wouldn’t say it’s harder, as it’s different work.”
As for his goals, Brase wants to partner with his peers and those he supervises so that he can support them and their own plans at every turn. Brase also hopes to integrate Guided Pathways into Chemeketa’s advising system, a tool designed to give students better direction regarding their class schedule for their desired field, thus saving them time and money. Linn-Benton Community College has already adopted this measure, and the model found on their website serves as inspiration for Brase’s vision.
However, despite his aspirations, Brase acknowledges that he will face adversity moving forward.
“I think … challenges that come along are sometimes unexpected, but I’ve been at the community college since ’93, so I know those budgets are usually the biggest,” he said. “We have up years where things are going well, and then down years where we have to make cuts … That’s always rough when you have that, but that’s part of being in education, is often having limited resources while also trying to accomplish a lot.”
When asked about enjoys about working at Chemeketa, Brase didn’t hesitate. It’s his colleagues, the students and what the school stands for itself.
“Community college is essentially the first church of the second chance,” Brase said, quoting Fred Chancey, one of Chemeketa’s past English instructors. “And it’s so true. Its students are here to succeed, to have an opportunity for themselves … Being able to help students reach [their goals] is why I fell in love with being here.”
In much the same way as Brase, Keith Russell received the phone call he was hoping for. Russell’s family was one of the reasons he began looking for jobs in Oregon.
With relatives living in the American South, and a PhD and Master’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University and Southeastern Missouri State University respectively, it’s no surprise that Russell and his wife considered remaining in that region of the country. However, Russell’s wife grew up in Portland and knew that one day she wanted to return.
“My wife and I [are] blessed to have two amazing young girls, and we want to raise them in the best environment we can,” Russell said. “And the way we see the world, we think that Oregon, and that region around Chemeketa, will be a place where they can have more opportunities and have a … chance to have a better life.”
Though he said that living in Georgia has its perks, Russell believes Oregon coincides more with his and his wife’s ideals. He also cited the Salem area’s academic reputation as an important factor, explaining that the public schools here are generally higher quality than those in Southern Georgia, where they currently reside. His wife also prefers the weather in Oregon.
Russell learned about the Dean of Liberal Arts opening at Chemeketa through an advertisement on a governmental website. In the past, he’d also applied for a position at Portland Community College, as well as spots at a few other places in Oregon, but didn’t receive any offers. Before viewing the Chemeketa ad, he had interviews in Texas and Missouri, but the prospect of moving to the Willamette Valley captured their imagination.
“I was doing my research right after I applied, [and I saw] Chemeketa was one of 155 community colleges nationwide that was a finalist for the Aspen Prize in Community College Excellence, which is one of the major national prizes for community colleges,” Russell said. “And Chemeketa was the only school in all of Oregon that was nominated … That was a great mark of distinction.”
As for the job itself, Russell is excited to become more involved in liberal arts again, which include the subjects about which he’s most passionate, such as poetry, music, and art. Instead of handling a variety of disciplines, from math and science to psychology and criminal justice, like in his current job, he looks forward to better utilizing his degrees and talents.
Once he settles at Chemeketa, Russell hopes to teach one class a year, in addition to his duties as a dean. His first post-college job was Professor of Humanities at Lindenwood University in Missouri, where he taught English and English as a Second Language classes. Russell has taught at Georgia Military College as well, and said teaching “keeps me grounded, keeps me in touch with the students.”
When Russell starts in the summer, he plans to ask questions and communicate extensively with the people around him, to visualize what aspects have worked and what needs improvement. He also will tackle possible program growth and additions to the college.
“I hope I can service Chemeketa Community College well,” said Russell. “My family are all really excited … [My wife and I are] just grateful to have the chance to raise both of [our children] in Oregon, and just being able to make the move and join a great academic community fills us with a lot of hope.”