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Q&A: Traci Fordham is rocking her new role with PCC

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Traci Fordham arrived last July as President Jeremy Brown’s new Chief of Staff. Fordham traveled across the country from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York where she was a faculty member and chair of the department of Performance and Communication arts. Fordham also taught in the Gender and Sexuality Studies program there. She has a doctorate in Social Science with a concentration in Intercultural Communication from Syracuse University, and bachelor and master’s degrees in Communication from the University of Wisconsin. She is published many times over, an accomplished presenter on a variety of issues and generally awesome (think sings in bands).

We sat down with her recently to talk about her new role at PCC and as you can imagine it didn’t disappoint:

Traci Fordham arrived last July from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York as President Jeremy Brown’s new Chief of Staff.

Traci Fordham arrived last July from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York as President Jeremy Brown’s new Chief of Staff.

What are your strengths as you settle in to this important position with PCC?

Fordham: What I would underscore is a life-long commitment to enhancing the relationships between the different areas of organizations, particularly of higher education institutions. Silos, specializations, standard operating procedures, etc., often constrain organizations from collaboratively accomplishing their missions. So, I’ve always had my “toes” both in administration, faculty, student support services, voluntary committee work, shared governance, department chair-ship, boards of directors/trustees, and work with external communities. This is one of the reasons that I am at PCC and took this job. It’s a big, awesome, complicated place and this job in particular is one of relationship-building.

How did you find your way to PCC?

Fordham: Serendipity. I fell in love with Portland many, many years ago. And I was at a point in my academic, professional career where I was poised to take on larger administrative responsibilities. Dr. Brown needed a chief of staff. This job, while a somewhat uncommon one for an academic/scholar, is the perfect culmination of everything I’ve taught, thought, and written about in the 30 years I’ve been a scholar of communication. And it’s in the beautiful state of Oregon. Perfect match.

What are your job duties as President Brown’s Chief of Staff and how do they fit his needs?

Fordham: There is a really cool word in French, “bricoleur,” and it means, basically, someone who is a creative problem-solver, someone who fashions solutions out of what she/he has on hand. I see my role as Chief of Staff to be primarily as a bricoleur. The college president, as a job, requires the person in that job to represent the mission of the institution, to communicate to many constituencies the core values, programs, services, and people that constitute our college. The president literally embodies PCC. Daunting, really. Think of all of the people, groups, stakeholders, communities that our president must reach, and through many different media and modes. And obviously our stakeholders are not just external to the organization, nor are they fixed in one place. Having opportunities to interact with the people who actually constitute this place – students, faculty, staff – listening to people, making connections, these are just as important as representing the college externally. My job, with the assistance of several other awesome people and departments, is to help the president to communicate about our mission with both internal and external groups.

Any highlights from the job so far?

Fordham: A week has not gone by wherein I haven’t said (to myself or to someone else) that this is mad fun. I am still in hyper-learning drive. There is so much to decipher, so many people to meet, programs to understand, acronyms to digest. Participating in the Southeast opening celebrations, putting my son in Gateway to College, walking through the idea stages of In-Service with all of the creative, smart, dedicated people who make it happen. Then being in the wings and watching it unfold, getting to know some of our amazing faculty, meeting eager and dedicated students, seeing the Strategic Plan develop into an inspiring document of institutional values, these are all highlights for me. But, honestly, I have daily highlights here.

What goals do you have as you get acclimated to PCC?

Fordham: PCC is on the cusp of some really great things. It already is one of the most amazing places in the country. So, my future goals as I become more “acclimated” to this place are to help the college to turn the strategic vision into priorities, initiatives, and programs. I am just excited to have been brought in at this really critical moment for this place.

Do you have any hobbies, or passions that you engage in when not working?

Fordham: Here’s my plug – in my life before coming to Portland, I fronted two different bands.  One did a lot of original stuff, but focused on low-key, soft rock, protest music, folk (e.g. Joni Mitchell, Sinead O’Connor, Tracy Chapman). My other band was a hard-driving, loud, raucous rock-n-roll bar band. We did mostly covers but were all over the place: Jefferson Airplane, Pretenders, Queen, Heart, U-2, Black Keys, Hendrix, Bowie, AC/DC, you name it. I was the lead vocalist. So, my guitarist is out here, too. We’re looking to start up the band again. I hear that Jessica Howard plays drums.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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