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Q&A: Karin Edwards takes helm of Cascade ship
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
The Cascade Campus of Portland Community College has a new president.
Karin Edwards took up her new post in July. Edwards comes to Cascade from Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut, where she served as chief student affairs officer. Recently, Edwards sat down for a Q&A session to reveal who she is and what she has planned for PCC’s North Portland campus.
What is it about the campus and PCC that inspired you to apply for your new job?
Edwards: I was inspired to apply for the position of Cascade Campus president because Portland Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the state of Oregon, serving approximately 90,000 students annually. PCC is well-known and well-respected for its quality programs and services, and for meeting the education and workforce needs of the communities in Portland.
I was drawn to the Cascade Campus because of its location in North Portland, where many different ethnic and racial cultures are represented in the surrounding neighborhoods. In my position, I will advocate for the needs of the Cascade Campus so that we can effectively meet those of the diverse communities served by Cascade. I was also drawn to Cascade because it provides educational services to the broadest spectrum of students — from toddlers in Head Start, to adult education, to career and technical training, as well as community and personal development courses.
What is your No. 1 priority?
Edwards: During my first year, I have several priorities I will address. Among them will be to learn as much as possible about the community to determine where opportunities and/or gaps in programs, services and resources may exist. Simultaneously, I will learn as much as possible about the faculty and staff to determine what resources exist on campus and the college’s capacity to meet community needs. Additionally, I will build on existing partnerships with external constituents and cultivate new ones, where appropriate. By example, I will foster a positive campus climate where open, respectful communication is encouraged, collegiality and civility are expected, personal and professional achievements are recognized, and diversity is celebrated. Finally, I will support PCC in the implementation of its strategic plan.
You have a strong background in student services. Tell us your view of the impact that student services have on student success.
Edwards: As a former chief student affairs officer, I wholeheartedly endorse the student-centered mission that guides PCC. [At my previous job], one of my essential responsibilities was to make sure students’ needs were addressed and that their goals were achievable. I have had the opportunity to foster the academic and personal development of students, both in and out of the classroom, by serving as a counselor and instructor.
Research suggests that many community college students stop out or drop out of college due to personal, financial, or family issues rather than academic issues. Student service professionals are trained to help students navigate and overcome these barriers to their success. Through appropriate assessments, advising and connecting students to the right resources, student services play a key role in promoting student success.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Edwards: Both personally and professionally, moving to Portland, leaving family and friends behind, and serving as a campus president is a big transition for me. I am looking forward to meeting new people, establishing new relationships and making new friends. I look forward to learning about other cultures and exploring the West Coast. Most importantly, I look forward to making a difference in the lives of the students we serve.
What do you see as PCC and Cascade’s greatest strengths, and how do you plan to build on them?
Edwards: PCC and the Cascade Campus have strong leadership teams. They are comprised of competent, committed, and creative thinkers. I hope my experience and perspective will further strengthen the teams. The college is highly regarded by community constituents and stakeholders for the good work that it has produced. I will uphold this standard of excellence in all the work that is done at Cascade. PCC enjoys strong college/community relations with the public school system, other institutions of higher education, business and industry, community-based organizations, and governmental agencies. I will work to strengthen these relationships with new ideas and new perspectives.
Portlanders pride themselves on their, well, eccentricity. Are you looking forward to life in America’s weirdest city?
Edwards: I had not thought of Portland as weird; however, I did see a man walking a goat down Lombard Street! I am looking forward to sharing my Portland experience with family and friends on the East Coast, maybe watch an episode or two of “Portlandia” to help me be grounded. I am sure there will be some lifestyle changes for me moving to Portland, but I’m not expecting anything too far out of my “normal” range.