Partnering to Improve Access: Michele Johnson, Chancellor – Pierce College
At Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, we’ve seen how much more we can accomplish when we work together. Since 1981, community members have shared their commitment to a thriving Pierce County by partnering with GTCF to bring their vision to life and build a legacy for future generations. In our 2018 yearbook, Pierce County Partners, a few of our partners shared their lessons and insights from working to strengthen Pierce County.”Improving access for underserved students takes resources and ingenuity…it needs to happen because we need to serve those students. So, we are figuring out ways.”
At Pierce College, the mission is such a central part of every decision, every day, staff can recite it without hesitation. Chancellor Michele Johnson admits, “Achieving the mission is more than reciting it, but if you can’t recite it, and you don’t know what the values of it are, then you are not going to do it.”
“Improving access for underserved students takes resources and ingenuity…it needs to happen because we need to serve those students. So, we are figuring out ways.”
The mission is, “Pierce College creates quality educational opportunities for a diverse community of learners to thrive in an evolving world.” Recently, serving that diverse community has led the college to improve access for non-traditional students, “We can’t just open the door and say they have access, now they are successful. We need to say, what are the barriers in their way and how can we remove them?”
Transportation is one of the biggest barriers for Pierce County students. Beyond Graham, there are three miles of public transportation in the entire second district. Michele says, “Their students couldn’t get to us if they wanted to. We are now offering courses at Graham Kapowsin High School. We have about a hundred students there, half are Running Start students, and half are adults from the community.” Improving access for underserved students takes resources and ingenuity, but Michele points to Pierce College’s mission, “it needs to happen because we need to serve those students. So, we are figuring out ways.”
Michele started as a part-time adjunct faculty member for Pierce College at Joint Base Lewis McCord teaching criminal justice in 1977, “and there wasn’t another woman doing any of that. I was 24. “I will always at heart be a coach. When I was starting out, I had a student, a young woman, who played on the sports team. I went out to watch them and they were terrible. And I had played ball – basketball and fast pitch. “So I went to the associate dean. I said, maybe I could coach. And I did it for five years. “And we had the first major conference championship team. We were inducted in the hall of fame – fast pitch.
“People know I’m a little competitive. I pretend that I’m not, but I am. But I wouldn’t be in this job today if I hadn’t been an athlete. “Especially as a woman. Especially growing up when I did. It taught me how to work hard, how to be part of a team, how to lead, and how to follow. And that’s what we do every day.”