Op-Ed: PCC Board of Governors Candidate Catherine Ripley

By Catherine Ripley, Pima Community College Governing Board candidate

My training as an officer in the U.S. Navy and as a U.S. diplomat demanded that I learn each position from the bottom up so I could better lead from top down. On a ship, the sailor turning a wrench in the boiler room is as critical as the captain steering the ship up top. With one mistake, either could imperil the vessel. So the captain must know every inch of that ship and every sailor running it. 

That’s how I’ve approached my candidacy for the Pima Community College Governing Board. I’m seeking this position because, as an Adjunct Professor of Political Science for the past five years, I’ve come to appreciate just how valuable this institution is to our community. But I also believe that my unique expertise can help make PCC more vital to Tucson and Pima County than it’s ever been. 

To gain deeper insight into how I can best serve PCC, I’ve met with as many PCC-related people and organizations as possible, including a group of professors from PCC’s founding faculty in the late 1960’s. Their vision has come to life on campuses serving every demographic group in all corners of the county. These dedicated educators wanted to make sure that I understood their vision and would help a new generation of faculty, staff and administrators carry it forward. 

Their vision is straightforward: keep it student-centric, protect open admissions, and guard the Social Sciences and Humanities as well as the STEM programs. And, they understood the importance of keeping abreast and ahead of new technologies as they evolve. Once a community or any college loses sight of that concept, it starts to lose the very essence of its mission: to serve the community. 

I want to applaud PCC’s efforts to adopt progressive programs – some already in the works – like stackable credentials, micro-pathways, and 12-18 month, industry- recognized certification programs.  These efforts will keep us relevant and our students competitive. 

Workforce development is a crucial piece of our mission. PCC’s diverse student population – 55% female and 55% minorities – represents thousands of working families. Offering childcare, transportation, shuttle services, student mentoring programs, and a concerted, long-term effort towards free tuition, would help make PCC even more accessible and inclusive.  

Many U.S. community colleges, and colleges in most countries, offer these amenities. They keep community colleges alive and thriving, and we can deliver them at PCC.

I also met with high-school counselors, the superintendent of Pima Joint Technical Education District (JTED), our local Trade Unions, and the founder of Earn to Learn, a tuition-matching grant program for high-school students.  They all expressed strong interest in bolstering our relationship with one another, which could help boost enrollment and communicate needs. Efforts to follow up and follow through with prospective students will require more or redirected staffing. 

Funding cuts from the state, and two recessions eliminated many of these services, the same funding cuts that depressed enrollment and triggered tuition increases.  

This would be a relatively easy fix, if we made it a priority and used faculty, adjuncts and volunteers as recruiters, advisors and mentors rather than contracting these services out. They know our school, and they know and love our students. We need to use them. I know retired “life-long learners” who would love to volunteer as recruiters, guiding prospective students from application through completion of freshman year. Working with my fellow adjuncts, the Teaching and Learning Center, Faculty Services, PCC Educational Association, and the Veteran’s Center, I’ve seen collaboration work wonders behind the scenes. Never underestimate people power when there’s a common goal!  

During my journey as a candidate, I tapped into my network of local movers and shakers, including the president of Raytheon Technical Services (formerly Raytheon Missile Systems) with whom I worked for six years. Our recent chat could lead to collaboration between PCC and Tucson-based Raytheon; Southern Arizona’s the largest employer.  I’ll do everything possible to make it happen.

We spoke not of a plan to get a few scholarships and internships, but of a model that succeeded at Raytheon’s Alabama plant: a formal education and training pipeline leading directly to jobs at Raytheon. This is long-term and sustainable, and will only grow bigger and stronger as it evolves. It makes sense. It is right in front of us.  

I am running for the PCC Governing Board at a time when its members need crisis management and strategic-planning skills, and a steady temperament, more than ever. This is a moment that requires strong yet fair leadership and management. Community colleges exist for precisely this moment. 

As a career naval officer, former diplomat, mother, educator, musician and community leader, I’ve led both small non-profits here in Tucson and thousands of troops across the globe during the Cold War and the War on Terror. I’ve hosted both heads of states and local refugees at my dining table. I brought nations together to form long-term counter-terrorism coalitions, and I brought humanitarian aid to war-torn African nations. I know how to get things done, and I know how to lead with passion, compassion, and pragmatism.  

As an adjunct professor who knows and loves PCC, I wish to apply the full force of my leadership experience towards propelling PCC into the thriving, robust and dependable education source it once was and will be again.   

Want to talk further? Reach me at [email protected] or through my campaign website: https://www.cat4pcc.com