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Preston Pulliams – PCC president, photographer, student

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He’s not only the president of Portland Community College, but Preston Pulliams is also a customer.

Pulliams, a resident of Beaverton, is a budding photographer and student. He has applied his hobby all over PCC and the world, from small things like flowers to huge ones like the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., and an excursion to China. The instructors in PCC’s Community Education program helped foster his interest in the art and helped him develop his talent.

He credits the photography instructors for opening his eyes to different aspects of the art. One area, composition, Pulliams said he learned that it is much more than a technical process that involves understanding your camera, how you look through the viewfinder and how you make a print. It’s the challenge of composition and comparing work with others and getting new perspectives from instructors that keeps him coming back.

“I do get a sense now of what a well-composed print should look like,” he said. “I’m not producing perfect prints but I do have a sense of what to look for. The composition piece of photography is really what gets me excited. And I’m excited because the instructors have been so engaging.”

So how do his fellow classmates and his instructors treat PCC’s commander in chief?

“It’s been interesting,” Pulliams said. “Students connect with me in terms of their experience at the college and I often hear how things are going, how they enjoy their classes, and what their experiences are. I get a different perspective of PCC inside the classroom, which is really fascinating.”

One of Pulliams’ favorite classes is Warren Mitchell’s Spring Landscape Photography course. Even though the president couldn’t always attend class due to his hectic schedule speaking and traveling, Mitchell said that Pulliams always goes the extra mile to do the assignments.

“It was wonderful; he did all of my assignments and even some extra stuff,” Mitchell said. “Five years ago he started taking my classes and he didn’t know much about his camera, but loved photography. Now he is very skilled. His composition is pretty good, too. Once he missed one of our field trips because he was busy, but went to the site we were at outside class and took the photos anyway. I don’t know if he will sign up for my class this fall, but I hope he does.”

When he got the PCC job in 2004 after finishing up as vice-chancellor for Community Colleges for the State University of New York (SUNY), Pulliams was stepping into a situation that would soon turn a passing fancy into a full-fledged hobby. PCC’s Community Education program, one of the biggest in the nation, offers hundreds of non-credit and continuing education classes across the district and online. It contains 4,000 classes each year, including 22 different language courses, many educational trips to 12 countries, 15 varieties of dance classes, a plethora of sustainability courses and is home to a nationally recognized online program.

Pulliams decided to take advantage of PCC’s non-credit program after his move across the country from New York. The camera he bought for the trip was so advanced, it was a chore to take photographs, he said. Hence, the camera remained mostly in its bag during the duration of the move to Oregon.

“Before that trip I was just a point-and-shoot kind of guy that took pictures at family outings and vacations,” he said. “But that trip across the country I saw all those beautiful things and didn’t know how to record them and do a good job of it. That motivated me. It has been a love affair ever since with photography. When I arrived here five years ago I decided since I had this nice camera why not take some courses?”

Now, the camera is his constant companion on business trips, vacations and any other kind of free time. His specialty is landscape because, “it doesn’t talk back to me,” he said with a chuckle. “I want to learn how to photograph people, but right now my real love is landscape.”

However, his highlight was taking pictures of hundreds of thousands of people at President Barrack Obama’s Inauguration in January. “I loved shooting the crowd scenes – just the expressions on people’s faces reflecting what was going on; it was a historical event,” he added.

You never know where a Community Education class might take you and, for Preston Pulliams, he wants to parlay the skills he’s learned to not just benefit himself but the college, too. He plans to get other PCC photographers together – such as Christine Chairsell, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs – for an exhibit to sell their work to benefit the PCC Foundation and student scholarships.

“It has been fun observing a hobby turn into his discipline,” said Chairsell. “He has developed the photographer’s eye in the very special ways he artistically blends light and color, then balances out every shot with superb technical skills.”

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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