Rachel Pokrandt will become the 12th president at Umpqua Community College when she steps into the role on July 1, the board of education announced Friday during a special meeting.
“We are so looking forward to meeting all of you in person in July,” Pokrandt said when she addressed the community after the announcement was made. “I cannot wait to be out of Zoom-land and be in a room with all of you. And it really cannot come soon enough. I am thrilled. I have permagrin.”
Pokrandt will take over the position from Debra Thatcher, who is retiring on June 30. Thatcher has led the college since 2016.
After Thatcher announced her retirement, the school board decided to take on the search for a new president on its own — without the help of a hiring firm — and received more than 80 applications.
“The applicants were truly outstanding,” UCC board chair Steve Loosley said. “Many were exceptionally well-qualified having dedicated their entire lives and careers to help students succeed.”
Pokrandt was chosen as one of three finalists, who met with the board of education in person, toured the campus and held a virtual town hall meeting where they fielded questions from the community.
Loosley thanked the community, search advisory committee, school board, staff and faculty for their input in the search for the new president.
Pokrandt said the unique presidential profile is one of the things that caught her attention and made her want to apply for the position.
“I love it because it had just that right blend of passion for what we do in a community college setting and your sort of rural community in Oregon, and then just a little sense and a hint of fun and irreverence that I think matches who I am as a person and a professional,” Pokrandt said last week. “It really spoke to me, which is why I was excited to apply for this position.”
Loosley said the decision to hire Pokrandt was unanimous. She has a contract that will pay her $200,000 a year, which was approved during Friday’s special meeting.
Pokrandt is currently serving as the vice president and campus dean for Colorado Mountain College.
Although she has worked in administration for colleges for a number of years, her path has been nontraditional.
Pokrandt grew in the United Kingdom. She started working as a high school teacher and then moved into the business side, developing curriculum packages, before moving on to work for nonprofits and eventually landing in higher education.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts and British literature, a bachelor’s degree in educational studies and social science, a master’s degree in management and strategy and a doctorate in management.
And, according to her Colorado Mountain College profile, she once won best costume in a haunted trail 5K.
Pokrandt said she is focused on finishing up her work at Colorado Mountain College, while also learning more about Umpqua Community College and starting the onboarding process.
“I have already received a great deal of help from current UCC staff and of course the board, and I will continue to seek their wisdom and knowledge to set me up for success,” she said.
While touring the campus last week, Pokrandt marveled at the beautiful location and surroundings of the college. She jokingly said it might become her biggest barrier to getting things done.
Pokrandt prefers not to see barriers, but rather opportunities which will require teamwork to overcome.
“Tough times don’t last, but tough teams do,” she said. “Besides which, it wouldn’t be much fun to come in and have no big hairy problems to work on.”
Pokrandt said that during her first 90 days on the job she wants to be a learner.
“What I always encourage people onboarding in a new job to think about — in our sorts of institutions — is: This is how students feel,” she said. “They come in and they are bombarded with learning. And it’s exhausting, and it’s a lot, and it’s overwhelming, and there’s going to be moments when you have no idea what you are doing and you don’t even understand some of the language that people are using. Because every sort of culture and institution has its own language. So, I intend to be an exhaustive learner.”
Enrollment and finances have been two of the most persistent problems for the college over the years.
“I have a track record of innovating my way out of tight budgets and not simply making cuts,” she said. “I also have a deep fundraising and friend-raising background that I believe I can deploy to help us figure out how to do more with less. In addition, I will be looking for partnerships with business, government and nonprofit entities to leverage resources that benefit all sides of that partnership.”
Pokrandt said she wants to make sure prospective students know how a credential from UCC can transform lives. She wants work with local employers to hear about the needs, so the college can work to train people to fill that need.
“They are our student’s future employers,” she said. “We have a responsibility to be talking to those folks.”
Pokrandt also hopes the campus will be able to better reflect the community, when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. She said her experience as an immigrant make her understand the point of view of people who don’t instantly feel like they belong.
Students are the most important people on campus, according to Pokrandt who said she would like to see students on every hiring committee and task force.
“I’m thrilled that the college has a student newspaper and I hope to learn more about how they can help keep me accountable,” Pokrandt said.
Pokrandt has continued to teach, which helps her keep in touch with the students and their needs.
“I’m not someone who loves to sit in an office so I’ll be out and about interacting with students as much as possible — that will be baked into my day,” Pokrandt said. She said she enjoys participating in extra-curricular activities with students, such as karoake, skiing, rafting, and attending sporting events.
When asked to describe her leadership style, Pokrandt said, “I don’t really believe in leadership style. I don’t think leaders can afford, in this day and age, to be one-trick ponies. We all have to be multi-dimensional.”
In addition to leading the college, Pokrandt wants to focus on being of service to students, staff, faculty and the community in her new role.
“I think everybody wants to go to work every day and feel like they have helped somebody else, and that they have been useful, and that their talents have been put to good use,” she said. “I think my professional goal in the role is to find out where I can be of most use and then perform to my highest abilities. And I can see a few places, I think, where some of my strengths will play. And I hope all of you will help me find what that might be as well.”