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Meeting Chemeketa’s new president: A Q&A with Julie Huckestein, Part II

By Matthew Skog

Interim president Julie Huckestein, the college’s former chief financial officer, was entrusted with the full position of college president in mid-Febuary.

Huckestein agreed to sit down with the Courier to discuss a variety of issues, ranging from her transition to college president to her short- and long-term goals, and to the challenges that Chemeketa will face in the coming years. This is the second half of our interview.

Q: How about your long-term goals for the college? Is there anything on the horizon that we should be watching for?

A: For long-term goals, we have to continue reviewing our programs … working with the advisory committees to look at programs and say, ‘You know, is what we’re doing still relevant?’ and ‘How are our students leaving Chemeketa? Are they ready?’

We also need to look at our facilities and whether we have the facilities that we need. For example, the Woodburn campus: I was just out there this week talking with them … about how they’re going to outgrow the facilities … several years down the road. We need to be ready for that.

The other thing we recognize is that the college serves a lot of Hispanic and Latino students because of the demographics of our area. So if we get better at our data collection, then what we could possibly do is qualify to be designated as what’s called a Hispanic Serving Institution. What that does is make us eligible to apply for grants that are specifically for institutions designated as Hispanic Serving Institutions, which would help us provide additional services to all students.

Another long-term goal is the textbook initiative. That’s going to be a long-term strategy. We’re making some progress this year, but this is something that’s going to take several years to make the kind of progress we want.

We’re also looking at our online program. [It] was one of the first in the state, but now there are several of them. … One of the things we’re trying to figure out right now is our niche.

Q: And what about the current state of the college?

A: I think we’re in a strong position. Financially we’re in a strong position. We have excellent staff, excellent faculty and employees, and great leadership. We have a great college community. Strong communities support each other, and I get the sense that everyone who comes in to work here supports each other every day.

Now, do I think there are areas we can improve? Yes. Of course there are areas we can improve. But overall I feel that we’re in a strong position as a college right now.

Q: What’s the single most important issue facing the college today?

A: You may or may not be surprised to hear this, but it’s competition. And the reason I say that is, if you think about it, students have lots of choices. Students are consumers, and now there are a lot of choices. For example, down the road we have private technical colleges. We have high school students getting credit for college while they’re in high school. We have universities that want to offer more courses that are like community college courses. We have more online options.

At the state level, there used to be an understanding that community colleges offered one thing and universities offered another. Now it’s becoming mixed, where some universities are interested in offering the types of courses that we offer. That’s competition.

The other thing, and it gets back to competition, is that there’s competition for dollars. So we’re being asked to show that our students are achieving specific outcomes, and that creates competition between colleges as well.

Competition is the common thread throughout our biggest challenges right now. It’s that external competition for students and funding.

Q: Is there anything that you’d like to share with our readers?

A: For one thing, I’m really proud to be president. You know, it’s funny, sometimes you become something that you didn’t think you could be. You never know what’s going to happen. You never know where you’re going to start and, I don’t want to say ‘Where you’ll end up,’ but you never know where along the path you’ll be at any point in time.

I always say to my friends who are considering taking more courses, or getting a different degree, or even starting a degree, I always tell them that no matter what you do with your life, you get older.

If you aspire to do something different, education is the key – it’s the way to do that.

I went to college and got my associate’s at 37 and my bachelor’s at 39 and my master’s in my 40s. I don’t consider myself a non-traditional community college student. I consider myself a traditional community college student. And I’m proud of that, too.

I want to be a role-model for others. When people think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that,’ well, you can. I’m not going to say it’s not a lot of work, or that it doesn’t take time, but you can.

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