Transparency highlights president’s new role


Denis Perez

Sitting in her campus office in August 2018, Contra Costa College President Katrina VanderWoude discusses her journey to becoming the 12th president of the college.

By Michael Santone, Editor-In-Chief

In just a little over a month’s time as the 12th president of Contra Costa College, Dr. Katrina VanderWoude has made it a priority to develop a sense of who the faculty, staff and students are at her new campus home, here in San Pablo.

“My first month has been absolutely stellar, it really has been,” Dr. VanderWoude said as she sat in her brightly lit and partially decorated office in the Student and Administration Building. “Between the faculty and visiting with students, I’ve had the opportunity to be in a few classrooms already — it’s been fantastic.”

VanderWoude, who arrived on campus on Aug. 6 from Grossmont College in El Cajon, California, has been working alongside Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Fred Wood and Governing Board President John Marquez to become familiar with CCC and it’s rich history.

“She (VanderWoude) has the capability, and I’ve seen it while working with her this last month, to really establish a sense of engagement at the college,” Dr. Wood said. “She’s an intelligent women who really wants to understand what’s going on, not only on campus but in the community as well.”

The campus is so stunningly beautiful and amazing, VanderWoude said, but aside from a few paintings from her daughter she’s hardly had time to completely unpack.

“The giraffe over there, I don’t quite have her unpacked. Then there’s a Catrina doll over there, whose head is on the side because her little neck was broken during my travel. So I’m talking to our ceramics faculty to see if they can do a repair,” VanderWoude said with a smile.

“That’s a Catrina doll and I’m a Katrina and I don’t want there to be any thought about how the real Katrina will end up. So we’ve got to get our head back on.”

Before being chosen president of CCC, VanderWoude served as the vice president of academic affairs at Grossmont, a few miles east of San Diego.

While serving as vice president there, she provided leadership to over 800 full- and part-time faculty and a staff with six instructional divisions in service to approximately 19,000 students.

“Grossmont College is a bit bigger than Contra Costa College and there was definitely diversity on that campus (too), which is something we both share,” VanderWoude said. “I am just so pleased to have landed in a district where I see how important the community in general is to the district. Particularly at Contra Costa I see a real connection to the community.”

VanderWoude said aside from both colleges experiencing enrollment issues like many community colleges up and down the state, both colleges are also Hispanic serving institutions which means at least 30 percent of their students identify as living in Hispanic households.

She said among her goals are looking for collaborative learning spaces for students and helping CCC become known for its student access, success and equity.

Grossmont College Dean of Allied Health and Nursing Dee Oliveri said VanderWoude is a very supportive person who listens and encourages those around her, especially if they want to try new things.

“I was new to my role (at Grossmont) and she was an enormous help to me in terms of connecting me with people who could help me,” Oliveri said. “She’s a coach and mentor, that kind of person. She’s always willing to share what she knows.”

Oliveri, who has known VanderWoude since she was hired at Grossmont three years ago, said VanderWoude can work in a situation and identify what needs to be done, which is a great quality for someone in her position to possess.

“If there is something that needs to be done, she will get it done,” Oliveri said.

Born and raised in Michigan as what seemed like an only child due to her siblings being more than decade older than she, VanderWoude became the first in her family to go away to college.

“There was an emphasis on education, but not that knowledge. I was definitely a first time, first generation college student without having the understanding of what it meant to go to college,” she said.

“It was just that my parents, neither of whom had college educations, were focused on saying, ‘(College) is something that you have to do,’ and when you’re coming from that type of background they didn’t necessarily understand it, but they knew it was something that I needed to do.”

Earning a double bachelor’s degree in social work and psychology from Michigan State University in East Lansing, a master’s degree in educational leadership with an emphasis on higher education and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan State in Ypsilanti, VanderWoude set out to make community outreach her passion.

“I started my career with my first degrees in social work and psychology and, for a short time, I worked with students who were abused and neglected, where you see so many different things,” VanderWoude said. “We’ve all had disappointments but where possible, when you can, it’s trying to brand that challenge into an opportunity.”

During her time at Grossmont, VanderWoude established partnerships in the local community, helped the college increase its enrollment and developed a relationship with each faculty and staff member.

“One of the programs I was really proud of was the Pathways to Success Academy with the Los Colinas Women’s Correctional Facility, where incarcerated women were able to be released with 20 college credits and an invitation to come to Grossmont,” VanderWoude said. “The faculty found it to be one of their most rewarding experiences, and so did I.”

Grossmont College math professor Susan Working said VanderWoude made sure every voice was heard on campus, even when it came to large scale meetings and issues that aroused many on campus.

“She (VanderWoude) is very pro-student. So as faculty if you brought to her (student-centered) ideas and issues, even as a vice president, she would support (them),” Working said. “I think because she is so receptive to ideas, it could be a big change for the college (CCC). She will bring positivity.”

Working said VanderWoude has an open-door policy where you don’t need an appointment to see her and you can just pop in and if she has any time she will immediately let you in to talk to her.

“Students will feel comfortable with her, people will feel comfortable going to her,” Working said. “I think it will be a more transparent environment if it wasn’t before.”

VanderWoude said she plans to continue her open door policy at CCC, as well as looking for ways to make change through a democratic process.

“I enter these conversations and I’m thinking what would be the reason for keeping these things secret? Would I want the information that’s going to help me better to do my job? Absolutely.”

“I think it’s part of my role to help create and facilitate an environment of open communication and transparency. Does it mean we always agree? No it does not. But that means we sit down and talk about it.”