Meeting Chemeketa’s new president: A Q&A with Julie Huckestein
By Matthew Skog
Interim president Julie Huckestein was entrusted with the full position of college president in mid-February.
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 the challenges that Chemeketa will face in the coming years.
Q: How are you adjusting to your new role? Has anything changed since the word interim was removed from your title?
A: One of the big changes I’ve noticed was that after the interim was dropped, there was a lot of attention … positive attention. I’m very appreciative of all the kind words that were said about me, and the very welcoming way that staff, faculty, and community members have responded to the news.
It was surprising to me because it just felt like the day I was interim and the next day would be the same. I always felt appreciated as interim, but I didn’t realize what a big deal it would be going from interim to permanent.
Q: How has the reaction been among students and staff?
A: I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’ve felt supported by everyone. I’ve had students walk up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re the president, aren’t you?’ Everyone’s been nice to me, and I appreciate all the support.
Q: When you were given the interim position last year, did you ever think that it would lead to the permanent position?
A: No. I never had president in my career plan. But sometimes things happen along the way in your career, and in your life, that you really didn’t think would happen. I knew I would be in the finance area because that was my previous position – vice president/chief financial officer. But I didn’t know the next step would be being the president.
I’ve had a lot of experience with community colleges. I’ve been at community colleges for 28 years, so I have a really good understanding of them. Prior to working here, I worked at Linn-Benton. I’ve worked on accreditation visits too, so I’ve seen several different colleges outside of Oregon and seen how they operate as well.
I always thought of myself as a person behind the scenes, not up front. I’ve always considered myself a good supporter, but not necessarily the up-front person.
Q: What’s on your agenda for the rest of this school year?
A: For the rest of this school year, a few things. We have our accreditation visit, and we’re working to make that successful. That will be April 8 to 10.
We’re also working to continue our initiative on reducing textbook costs for students.
We’re doing whatever we can to support community colleges in the legislative session.
We’re continuing our efforts on student persistence and completion as well. What I mean by that is to continue having strong advising of students and continue working with students on their completion goals.
We’re also working on our Faculty Hiring Initiative. We’re trying to recruit faculty of more diverse backgrounds that more reflects our student base.
We’re working on our data collection. Many of our students don’t necessarily report all of their demographics when they apply to Chemeketa. It’s really important for us to have good demographics data so that when we do our reports to the state and federal government, it reflects the college as a whole.
Another initiative we’re working with employers on is to identify any new types of career or technical programs that might be needed. For example, one area that employers see as a great need is in manufacturing because there are a lot of retirements. So employers are telling us that they need employees with skills such as welding, mechanical, electrical work, people who know how to use a tape measure, those sorts of skills. So we’re trying to cater to that.
We’re also working to remind the community that we’re here as a resource for them. We’re starting a campaign about careers that people can start at Chemeketa. … You’ll see billboards with our students on them and a career they’re studying at Chemeketa, such as a welder, or a medical person, or an accountant – just a variety of the different kinds of careers we teach.
So we’re really trying to promote the college and remind people that we’re here as their resource, and that those careers are important. We want people to be able to choose a career that they can get a family-wage job with. That’s really important.
A follow-up to the Courier’s conversation with President Huckestein will run in the next available edition.