Please excuse Jessica Howard for a moment and allow her to gush about Portland’s people, landscape, food, culture, music and even the weather. The Texan transplant and her husband and daughter arrived in August and they’ve taken every opportunity to explore the Pacific Northwest.
“I love everything about this town,” she said smiling.
She talks just as excitedly about her new job at the helm of the Southeast Center. There is a massive $34 million bond construction project that will add buildings, student resources, a bookstore, library and other a facilities and eventually transition the center to a full-fledged, comprehensive campus in 2014.
Since opening in 2004, the Southeast Center has experienced the biggest enrollment growth of any PCC location, growing by 31 percent in the past three years. The student population for the center at SE 82nd Avenue and Division Street could reach 20,000 within the next five years.
“If you want a place that is innovative and diverse and responds quickly to situations then this is the campus for you,” Howard said while sitting in her office at the historic former German American Society building, which now partly serves as the campus’ administration wing. “This is a burgeoning moment for the Southeast Center and the excitement is palpable.”
Howard’s duties as the president of the Southeast Center and Extended Learning Campus include overseeing college transfer, developmental education, career technical education programs and non-credit continuing education and community education courses. In addition, the position leads professional training for businesses though the CLIMB Center for Advancement and alternative high school programs such as Gateway to College.
In fact, Howard knew about PCC as the birthplace of Gateway, the program that allows students who drop out of a traditional high school setting to earn a diploma and college credits at the same time. Gateway was later replicated at other sites across the country and her former college was an active Gateway campus.
Until her move to Portland, Howard served as Vice President of Academic Affairs for San Antonio College, one of five colleges in the Alamo Colleges System in Texas. She led the arts and sciences, career technical education, continuing education and contract training and learning resources divisions. She had also served as Interim Executive Vice President, responsible for both academic and student affairs.
“Jessica is passionate about helping students reach their educational goals – whatever they may be,” said PCC District President Preston Pulliams. “She is excited about representing the center in the community, a critical role given Southeast’s expansion in its neighborhood and the myriad of community relationships advanced by the Extended Learning Campus.”
Howard replaces Craig Kolins, who served as interim campus president for the past two years, following the retirement of Nan Poppe from the position. Kolins returns to his previous job as dean of instruction and student development for the center.
A piano player since she was 7, Howard’s undergraduate and graduate work at Rice University in Houston focused on English and music theory.
“Reading and writing music came naturally to me,” recalled Howard, who continues to play, at times seated next to her 8-year-old daughter who is learning to tickle the ivories.
Howard’s doctorate is in performance studies from New York University. She acted in college and contemplated a career on stage (or off of it as a director) before concentrating more on education and researching the most promising ways to help students learn.
Fresh out of college, she taught part-time at a community college and a university, and held a full-time position as a high school fine arts director. After earning a full-time community college teaching position, she moved up the ranks as a department chair, associate professor and vice president.
And while she has multiple higher education degrees (bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate) she had never earned an associate’s degree. That changed in 2010 when she completed several needed classes (college level math, political science and history) and earned her degree. The reverse transfer completion was a highlight in her professional life. During commencement she was sitting with colleagues for part of the ceremony and then put on her mortarboard and walked across the stage to receive her diploma.
While completing her associate’s degree Howard realized how much she missed being around students.
“It was a net gain for me to be back in class,” she said.
And now she’s happy to be on a growing campus with frequent student interactions.