23 Jan A Leader Brings the Aloha Spirit to Central Oregon: COCC President Shirley Metcalf
Dr. Shirley I. Metcalf has been president of Central Oregon Community College since September 2014. She was born and raised in Hawaii and spent several decades in that state before relocating to Kirkland, Washington, and then Bend, with her husband Wayne. Here she shares her thoughts on Central Oregon, skiing and life at the helm of a
In your time here, what have become your favorite things about Bend?
My husband and I first visited Bend in 1982 when we came to the Bob Beattie Ski Camp for our honeymoon. I have a trophy for “The Most Improved Woman Skier,” which sits on my shelf along with my other awards. I still enjoy downhill skiing and ski race training here, as well as experiencing the beauty of the changing of the seasons. In Hawaii, we didn’t have seasons, so these are all new experiences for me.
But I think Central Oregon is also very similar to Hawaii. When you live in a small, isolated place, everyone is connected. We all cross paths eventually throughout Central Oregon, at a meeting, at Mt. Bachelor, at the bank, at the grocery store or at the car repair shop. I enjoy connecting with people and seeing how our lives are interwoven. In Hawaiian, ‘ohana is the word for family, but its interpretation is more a lesson in culture than in language. At COCC and in our Central Oregon community, I believe that we are all ‘ohana . . . we are family.
What do you love most about your job?
The people I work with, the people I meet in the community and the people we serve, our students. As a community college, our students have a wide range of backgrounds, both personal and educational. We have high school students taking classes with us, and we have those in their 40s, 50s and 60s coming to college to increase their skills and options for the future. Many of our students are first-generation college students, meaning their parents didn’t go to college, and they are breaking new ground for their families. I enjoy talking in our communities and asking how many people have taken courses at COCC and seeing all the hands go up, and hearing about their personal experiences. I love to tell stories like that of Ben Davies, the son of Deb Davies, our dental assisting program director. Ben was a non-traditional student who didn’t graduate from high school, worked at several different jobs and then attended the manufacturing and applied technology program at the Redmond campus. Ben now owns Redmond Welding and Contracting.
What is the toughest part of your job?
If there is anything “tough” about my job, it would be making decisions about prioritizing one need over another. Our resources are spread thin—so we can’t do all the things I would like to see being done to better serve our students and our communities. For example, I’d like to work to remove more barriers for students. We have programs to assist Native American and Latino students, but we do not offer in-depth services to our veterans. We also are not able to offer very much assistance to students in terms of healthcare and childcare services—both of which are barriers for our students.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing COCC today?
The state of Oregon ranks 46th in the nation for community college fiscal support. During the recession, when our enrollment was doubling, our revenue from the state was decreasing. That meant the only way to increase revenue was through tuition. And our board, rightfully so, is committed to affordability for our students. They are adamant about keeping tuition as low as possible. Fortunately, state resources have begun to grow a bit in the last couple of years and that has been helpful, but we still struggle to fully serve all our students.
If you had a magic wand, what would be your wish for COCC?
Central Oregon Community College serves a 10,000-square-mile, largely rural district. Ideally, we would have fully operational campuses in Redmond, Madras and Prineville, and possibly in La Pine and Sisters as well, with a full range of services for all students including assistance with childcare, healthcare, counseling and social services. This would help place-bound students in those areas access services and classes closer to home.
What do you see as COCC’s role in the Central Oregon community?
A community college is all things to all people. Our mission statement talks about “student success” and “community enrichment.” We assure student success by providing the classes, programs and support services to allow all students to reach their goals—whether that is one class to improve skills or a foundation to transfer and earn bachelor’s, master’s and additional advanced degrees. We provide community enrichment by offering courses throughout our district and bringing thought-provoking speakers to our region.
This fall term, for example, we held five presentations on campus, open to the public. Topics ranged from the Electoral College to Japanese woodblock prints to suicide. I am also very proud of our summer youth camps, which include the study of aviation, computers, criminal justice and culinary skills. Over 400 children ages 10 to 14 participate on our campuses each year.
How do you hope to contribute as a leader in Central Oregon?
I am of Japanese-Chinese ancestry and, as such, represent approximately 2% of community college presidents in the nation. As a woman, I am part of a group that makes up 33% of community college presidents. I hope that I can continue to serve as a role model for all of our students, faculty and staff, as well as for our community.