Retiring Olympic College president's legacy seen "in the success of every student"

BREMERTON — Retiring Olympic College President David Mitchell oversaw $150 million in capital projects during his 15-year tenure. Mitchell is proud of the buildings that expanded opportunities on three campuses, but he most wants people to remember "that I cared about students."

Mitchell, with less than a month left at the helm, is optimistic about the future of the college, which he says is poised to grow.

"I think people are moving in, companies are moving in. The capacity to handle the growth is here within the community and in the college," he said. "Enrollment has been flat for a couple of years, but I see it trending up right now."

The Olympic College those new students will find is dramatically changed from the college as it was when Mitchell was hired.

Since 2002, the college has added a dozen four-year baccalaureate degrees — four of its own and the rest in partnership with universities; Poulsbo got its own campus along with expansion at the Bremerton and Shelton branches; the college added an International Student Program; and created a department of Equity and Inclusion.

In January, the college will open the $46.5 million College Instruction Center in Bremerton, the largest capital project in the state's community college history.

Buildings are important, Mitchell said, but his biggest priority has been providing programs that give all students the chance to advance their education and careers.

"Whether they be baccalaureate programs or welding programs, people in this community have more access to higher education than they did before," he said. "I can't take responsibility for this, but I feel I'm very proud that almost 30,000 students have received a certificate or degree since I've been here."

Mary Garguile, vice president for instruction, said Mitchell was instrumental in making Olympic College one of the first community colleges in the nation to create a bachelor of science in nursing program in 2008. He helped forge a partnership with the Tacoma branch of the University of Washington that made the program possible.

"I think that is really a strength of David Mitchell," Garguile said. "He's really built a lot of partnerships that have helped us build the program."

The college later teamed up with Washington State University to provide mechanical and electrical engineering degrees on the Bremerton campus. A partnership with Western Washington University yielded multiple four-year degree opportunities.

"He is a visionary," said Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent. "It took David Mitchell and, I think, his tenacity in working with the Legislature, both locally and in the state to make that happen."

Lent said Olympic College's partnership with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility on its longstanding apprenticeship program has helped Bremerton and Kitsap County attract new residents and new businesses. The apprenticeship program this year earned OC and PSNS the Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership Award from the American Association of Community Colleges.OC's strong ties to PSNS factored into making it a finalist in 2015 for the Aspen Prize, which recognizes the nation's top community and technical colleges. The Aspen Institute considered the high job placement rate for students in OC's shipyard apprenticeship program, among other factors. The college is in the running again this year for the coveted prize.

Congressman Derek Kilmer, in a speech to the OC Foundation in October, praised Mitchell's leadership.

"His legacy is seen in every student who has stepped through the doors of this college over the last 15 years and in every student who will step through these doors going forward," Kilmer said. "My friends, more than two-thirds of the folks that walk through these doors are the first in their families to go to college.  They are welcomed here, embraced here, valued here, cultivated here. That’s the legacy of Dr. Mitchell."

Mitchell has taken a strong stand on closing the opportunity gap that results from poverty and other types of marginalization and keeps students from starting or completing college.

"It's just wrong," Mitchell said. "The whole community suffers."

To that end, in 2015 he established the Office of the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, hiring Cheryl Nuñez to oversee diversity education and advocacy at the college.

Mitchell helped launch an initiative called Graduate Kitsap-Mason. The college, in partnership with Kitsap Strong, is networking with business and community groups to promote college attendance and completion among historically underserved groups.

"He has a real passion for wanting to see individuals engage in post-secondary education," said Bishop Larry Robertson of Emmanuel Apostolic Church in Bremerton, who also worked on the initiative. "I can tell you he's a very good leader. He has insight. He cares about the whole community. He's going to be missed. We were very fortunate to have him."

Mitchell will retire with 42 years in the community and technical college system. He taught math for six years at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, where he was also the faculty president. He spent 22 years in the Seattle Colleges District, including five as the president of South Seattle College, before coming to OC.

Mitchell, 67, is looking forward to shifting gears after a non-stop career that started in fourth grade with a paper route. He and his wife Patti will do some traveling, and he'll have more time for his favorite pastimes: gardening, hiking and woodworking. But Mitchell, who has taught math at OC, is open to some part-time teaching or administrative work if the right opportunity comes up. "I'm going to stay connected, stay relevant," he said.

Mitchell's last day is Dec. 31. Dr. Marty Cavalluzzi, president of Pierce College Puyallup, has been selected as his successor.

By:  Chris Henry
Source: Kitsap Sun