By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Dr. Paul Killpatrick is president of Seattle Central Community College and vice chancellor for district-wide student services for Seattle Community Colleges.
Previously, he was president of Lake Tahoe Community College in California and president of Great Basin Community College in Nevada.
At Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore., he served as vice president of instructional support and community development and as vice president of instruction. Earlier, he served as dean for Professional and Career Education and dean for Instructional Support and Special Populations at Yakima Valley Community College in Yakima. He also held administrative and faculty positions at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore.
Killpatrick holds a doctorate in postsecondary education from Oregon State University, a master’s degree in counseling from Western Oregon State University, and a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Oregon State University.
1. Why is it important to you to contribute to your community?
Part of the reason is because community is a part of our name (Seattle Central Community College). I’ve been in colleges where they’ve dropped the community once they added the baccalaureate degree. But I believe that community is an important mission of the college.
2. What does the word diversity mean to you and how do you foster it in your work?
To me, it means that the people in power at Seattle Central should reflect the face of the community. We should represent the community that we happen to be in. How do we foster this? By hiring the best and the brightest people who have a passion for what they do, who want to be a part of a community college.
3. What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your work?
Budget cuts. Making hard decisions. Closing programs. Those are never, never easy decisions to make. When faced with reality, as president of the college, you have to make those decisions. We’ve held forums about this. I have a cabinet that is very instrumental in helping me make decisions. … I’m surrounded by very smart people.
But the decision is ultimately mine.
4. What was one of your proudest moments in your work?
Oh, this question is an easy one. [My proudest moment was] last September, when the college hosted Stand Down.
Stand Down is a military term that means, after soldiers have engaged in a battle situation, you stand back — stand down — to regroup and refresh.
(This idea has been adopted for homeless veterans, to provide a safe retreat for them to take care of personal hygiene, regroup, and refresh.)
I saw a special [about the Stand Down for homeless veterans program] on “60 Minutes.” They had a stand down in San Diego. It was a three-day event, people were camped out in tents. About [1,000] people came out …
I thought, “We’ve gotta have that in Seattle.” I found out that they’ve had events in Yakima, Tacoma, maybe Everett. We had started a vets club [at Seattle Central]. And [former student] Sam Barrett was the vet club president, and became a leader in Stand Down.
I asked Sam, “Can we do this?”
He said, “Yes. Let’s make it happen.”
We served about 290 homeless vets that day. Our students and faculty were all involved. (In total, about 60 organizations and agencies were involved.) Students from cosmetology gave haircuts to these veterans, for instance. …
As president, that was the proudest moment, just watching the students be so involved. Watching them give haircuts and wash the veterans’ feet — it was almost biblical.
5. Can you finish this sentence? “My work excites me because …”
Because we touch the future. I know. I’ve seen that sort of statement on coffee mugs. “Teachers touch the future.” But I really think it’s true. Education touches the future. We give people hope. We give them dreams. We help their dreams come true.
Being a first-generation college graduate myself, I’m always impressed with students who are the first in their family to go somewhere they haven’t gone before.
I only went to high school for three months. (Killpatrick grew up in South Central Los Angeles.) I dropped out. After some time, I entered Job Corps in Oregon, which eventually put me back on the right path. (Killpatrick enrolled at Oregon State University at age 17.)
I hope that students see what I have gone through, and I hope they say to themselves, “Gee, if you can be a dropout and then go to Job Corps and eventually become a college president, then maybe I can do something like that, too.”
6. If you could pick only one trait, what trait do you think is the most important for a leader?
To lead a balanced life. You gotta have your priorities in the right order. It’s good to have a spouse or partner to give you a different perspective.
This is my third presidency, and a really interesting piece of advice someone once gave me is, “Get a dog.” (Killpatrick has a dog.) You need to get a dog, so that there’s someone home who’s always happy to see you. A dog won’t care about the stresses of your day, or what you had to do at work. A dog is just supportive and loves you no matter what. If you’re gonna be in a stressful position, get a dog.
It’s funny. I was talking to Jean Hernandez (president of Edmonds Community College) about this. And she said, “Hey! I have two dogs.”
7. If you could compare your leadership style to that of a historical figure, who would that be?
Mother Theresa. And that’s actually not me trying to come up with a funny response.
She had a lot of doubt in whether what she believed in was true. I was reading something about her [in a magazine] a few years after her death. What struck me was how she doubted herself, wondering whether she was the kind of person who could carry the load she was carrying.
I thought, “Wow. She is so human.”
Even someone who had all the faith and confidence in the world — she also had doubts.
Sometimes, I have doubts, too.
But she was still able to do her job, even with those doubts.
8. If you weren’t doing what you’re doing today, what other job do you think you’d be good at?
I think I would be a great physician. I had a chance to serve on a hospital board. I was the chair. I had a chance to work hand-in-hand with physicians.
I thought, “Man, this would be a great job to come to every day.” Being a physician in the medical field, there’s a whole different vocabulary. I thought, “Man, how exciting.”
9. Do you have a secret talent? What is it?
I play the harmonica. I’m really into the blues. I’ve been into the blues a long time. I’ve gone to the [Portland] Oregon [Waterfront] Blues Festival every year for the last 10 or 15 years.
10. If you could describe yourself in only three words, what would they be?
Tall, dark, and handsome. (end)
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.