Dr. Julie White joined the college in July as Pierce College Fort Steilacoom’s new president, relocating from Syracuse, New York. She previously served as senior vice president of student engagement and learning support at Onondaga Community College. White has spent the past 25 years in higher education, with roles in student services, academic administration, research administration, health education and women’s services. We sat down with her to learn a little more about her journey in higher education that led her to Pierce College.
What inspired you to apply for the position of Pierce College Fort Steilacoom president?
I was looking for a college that would be the right fit for the next step in my career. I had been following Pierce College in the news, and knew it was a place that has equity and student success at its center, which was really appealing to me.
Personally, I love the outdoors, museums, music and good food. The Pacific Northwest seemed like a really good fit for me.
How did you get into higher education?
I have always been an educator, and actually started my career as a high school English teacher in Ohio. I knew I always wanted to work with students, but I also wanted to have a voice in policies and programs affecting students. I moved from Ohio to New York and became a health educator at a university, working directly with students in settings such as Greek organizations, residence halls, orientation, and athletics, to help build healthier and more equitable learning environments. I developed initiatives to educate the community about topics such as the responsible use of alcohol, healthy relationships, mental health, stress management, and much more. From there, I came up from the ground level through student affairs, moving from health education to lead a university women’s center. Eventually, I was ready for the next move in my career, and a position opened up in the community college in my town. I fell in love with the community college sector. The campus was in the heart of Rochester, New York, and we served a very diverse community of students who really needed that leg up and the support that we offer in community colleges. Ever since then, I’ve never considered leaving the community college sector. I found my home.
What do you love most about working in the community college environment?
The mission of community colleges is what’s important to me. We are one of the institutions in our country that make social mobility possible. I am a first-generation college student from a rural town, and I would not have the social mobility that I’ve had if I hadn’t been able to go to college. I don’t believe that opportunity should be restricted based on where you were born, who your parents happen to be, or any criteria other than your desire to learn. Everybody should have the access and the support they need to achieve their goals. Community colleges have fully embraced this mission as “democracy’s colleges.”
What impact do you hope to make as president of Pierce College Fort Steilacoom?
I plan to work with the Pierce College community to make us the best we can be at centering the voices and experiences of students and at providing the resources to all students that they need to accomplish their goals. The Aspen Rising Star award recognizes the work done this far, amplifying our impact, not only on our own students and communities, but also on community colleges across the nation, who will be able to learn from our successes and struggles in student success and equity in order to improve their own communities.
What do you think about the Pacific Northwest so far?
Well, after being here for a week, I love what I’ve seen so far. I’ve heard several people complain about the weather, but I honestly love it! I’m looking forward to having more time to explore the trails and farmers markets in the area. I’m also really enjoying the diversity of cultures and backgrounds in our communities. Finally, I’m really happy that I’ve found a yoga studio. Other than leaving friends back East, the hardest thing for me was leaving my old yoga studio, which was a thriving community committed to increasing flexibility, strength, and connection in body, mind, and spirit. Those are attributes that help keep me centered personally and professionally.
Reprinted, with permission, from the Pierce College website.