The Rant

Kauai Community College Stories - A Conversation with Interim Chancellor Margaret Sanchez

August 15, 2023 Eloy Oakley/Margaret Sanchez Season 1 Episode 20
The Rant
Kauai Community College Stories - A Conversation with Interim Chancellor Margaret Sanchez
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode  I close out Season 1 of The Rant. I end Season 1 with a conversation from one of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai. I recently visited with Margaret Sanchez, Interim Chancellor of Kauai Community College. From time to time I visit with community college leaders from throughout the country. We talk about the amazing work they do in communities as they serve the top 100% of learners. Given the recent disastrous news coming out of the Island of Maui, I thought that this episode would be a good reminder of the culture and identity that makes the Hawaiian Island the amazing place that they are.

Samson Q2U Microphone:

Hi. This is And welcome back to the rant. The podcast where we pull back the curtain. And break down the people, the policies and the politics of our higher education system. In this episode, I close out season one of the rant. I want to take a moment to thank all of our listeners. We've had people from across the world tune in to the podcast. Your support comments and continued engagement with the rant has made this effort all worthwhile. So thank you and keep listening. And of course, if you're watching us on the YouTube channel, hit subscribe. And continue to follow us on your favorite podcast platform. I also want to thank all of my guests. They have all jumped in to all of the topics that we've tackled. And their expertise and their passion. Has made our interviews a great success. I want to close out season one with a conversation with a community college leader. Community colleges are the heart and soul of the American higher education system. I'm sure that comment comes as no surprise to you. Coming from me. They take on the heaviest lift and give people of all backgrounds, all ages and experiences. The opportunity to gain the economic mobility that they seek. And to have a shot at the American dream. Serving the top 100% of learners is no easy task. In the following interview. I sat down with Margaret Sanchez. Interim chancellor of the Kauai community colleges. In the state of Hawaii. We discussed the uniqueness of serving an island community. And the importance of valuing the indigenous culture of a community. I hope that you enjoy the conversation. And I look forward to continuing to get into the rent with you and season two. Thanks for joining us and enjoy my conversation with Margaret Sanchez.

Margaret & Eloy:

Hi. Today I am joined by interim Chancellor Margaret Sanchez. She's the interim chancellor of Qua Community College, She's been here at the community college for. About six years previously serving as the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. Welcome to the podcast, Margaret. Thank you so much, Eli. Thank you for coming out here too. Well, it's a pleasure to be out here on the island of Kauai. You guys have a beautiful island. So let me jump into a few questions for you. And first of all, thank you for taking the time to, to do this. I know how busy you are. Especially with all that you have going on here at the, at the campus, and, you know, every community college has a million things going on, whether they're in the fall, spring, or summer. So I know how that is. So thank you for taking the time. Of course. Thank you for coming. So you spent some time in the California community Colleges. Thank you for your service. That's certainly has a very special place in my heart since I'm a product of the California Community Colleges and I had a chance to lead the system. And before you came here, you were at City College of San Francisco. So tell us about your higher education journey and how did you choose to come out here to Kauai CC and become a leader here? Hmm. How far back do you want me to go? Well, as far back as, as the journey takes you. Mm-hmm. Because I know, you know, certainly my own personal story so much went into me becoming a community college chancellor, including my own community college experience. Mm-hmm. So feel free to tell us about your story. Oh, sure. Thanks. I don't think I actually considered education so much when I was growing up. My father First generation, From his parents were from Mexico, and he, he was a community college leader at Sonoma State University. Wow. So I watched, I watched his journey there. Mm-hmm. And it was hard. It, it was a hard journey for him. And I, I did go to Santa Rosa Junior College Great. And Sonoma State University. And then I went to uc, Santa Cruz and majored in biochemistry and Wow. I was gonna be a doctor. And then due to various things that didn't happen, and I, and I joined the Peace Corps and I, I served in Botswana and taught there for two and a half years. Wow. And honestly, I wasn't gonna come back and, and get my PhD in biochemistry. But I, I really got hooked into education and met a lot of people along the way who had worked for community colleges and mm-hmm. So that was, that was sort of the path I decided on after that. when I went back to work after having small kids the opportunity presented it to me to, to lead the MESA program and I mm-hmm. I had been in Mesa in high school. Right. And so to me that was very, very close to my heart and. Probably my favorite thing I've ever done in my life was to lead the Mesa program. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And so that was in Mendocino College, which is a very small college. Right. Larger than here, but very small college in Northern California. Mm-hmm. And we served children of Migrant farm workers. Mm-hmm. And also inland Band of Pomo Indians in our program. And over the 12 years that I worked there, I could really see generational change Right. With students. They became the doctors, they became the teachers, they now they're the principals. Mm-hmm. They're the engineers. And really, really a, a generational shift. Based on that program. Mm-hmm. Quite honestly, I left Mendocino College because I had a child who was gonna be going into high school. Mm-hmm. And I knew he wasn't gonna make it in high school there. So he was actually transitioning from female to male. Mm-hmm. And I, I needed him closer to services, closer Right. to schools that would support him. So we, we made the move to city College of San Francisco. Mm-hmm. And so I was there during his high school years, all four of his high school years. And, and then, which was definitely an experience because I'm sure you remember those years, right? Mm-hmm. Yes. I learned a lot during those years. And, and I think that It was a, it was a very good experience, especially with the work we did. With placement assessment right over there. Yes. Uhhuh. Yeah. And grants and, and I led the, a Bridge to Success program there, which included that. The city and county of San Francisco in efforts towards college going. Mm-hmm. And so that experience, including local government and education and promoting education Was really valuable. And also really learning about A C C J C was very valuable too. Yes. We all learned about A C C J C through City College of San Francisco. Right. So crash course. So then just to finally answer your question after my son graduated my parents had some ties here to Kawai and they, they wanted, they wanted to come here mm-hmm. After their retirement. And so I looked for a job and then I realized that very, very important to me was that Helen Cox was the chancellor. Mm-hmm. And I really wanted to work with her as a leader. And so I did apply for her and get, get the job here as the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Wow. Well that is a great story. Like so many stories in the community colleges, so many of us are drawn to community colleges because of our experiences growing up, because of how we think about and feel about the students that we see and how we think about talent being in every community. Mm-hmm. I'm sure you've seen that along the way in, in your different roles. So for our listeners who are not as familiar with what goes on out here, On the islands. Tell us about the students at Kauai Community College. what makes them special and what are some of the greatest challenges that they face here on the island? first of all, a college is very special because it's small. Mm-hmm. We have 1400 students who attend here. And about a third of those are early college students, okay? Mm-hmm. the makeup of our students is extremely diverse. So 32% of our students are native Hawaiian or part native Hawaiian. Mm-hmm. And very high percentage of Filipino students and other Asian students. And sprinkling of, of other cultures in there too. Right. So, you know, Hawaii in general is, is very, very diverse. Mm-hmm. Very different than mainland that way. Mm-hmm. I think that our students are, are extremely special because of living on an island. And it is definitely expected of you to graduate high school. We have very, very high graduation rates. That's great. Yeah. Mm-hmm. But then many students are expected to go to work after that. Right. so a lot of our students really have to struggle to come to college and. Our students have an extremely high cost of living here. What is going on in the rest of the country is very much amplified here. Food prices are extremely high. Gas prices, housing is in completely inaccessible. So, so our students to be able to attend college is oftentimes a struggle. So we do try to, Create whatever support systems we can mm-hmm. For our students, I would assume because the cost of attendance is so high, a lot of them have to work and support their own families or themselves along the way. Exactly. Exactly. Mm-hmm. A lot of them support children and, and very often on Kauai, they're multi-generational households. That's the norm. And, and so students are expected to support their elders as well. Right. As their children. I would assume based on that information, a lot of your students go part-time or are they, are you able to find ways to get them to go full-time? Vast majority of our students are part-time. Yeah. I think it's almost 80%. are part-time, right? Mm-hmm. Yeah, no, that's, that's not a surprise. So the cost of housing that you mentioned is very high, and I'm sure as to some folks on the mainland particularly, you know, the state I'm from. I mean, you think about places like the Bay Area or Los Angeles or San Diego mm-hmm. Or the, there is high cost of housing. What do you, what do you think makes it different out here? And, and why is the cost of housing so high out here? Hmm. Yeah, good question. Well, first of all, to build housing here is very hard. Mm-hmm. I mean, I know there's supply chain issues on mainland, but if you try to build a house here, you add. Shipping. Right. And shipping times. And, and we're not even Oahu or Kauai, so it's gotta go through another island Right. To get here. So, so that, that just drives up the price of housing as well as it's always been high. But then during the pandemic mm-hmm. Many people decided that this would be a great place to work remotely. And so those who could afford it and had the means right. Came and site unseen bought houses. Oh my goodness. And and so now we're, we're in this situation where, rents are so high that, you know, one bedroom apartment it's going to cost you upwards of$3,000 a month. Wow. And. We do have some affordable housing, but again, we're trying to build more, but supply chain makes it very difficult. Right. So, you know, it, it, it basically, there is no housing to be had at the moment. Right. Well that's a, that's an important lesson for all of us on the mainland who just think about, where can we live and work? Mm-hmm. And we don't think about the impact it has on. The native people of that community. Mm-hmm. And how much housing prices are driven up just because, you know, folks who can afford it come out and live in a place like this. you just had a commencement. Oh yeah. Yeah. It was wonderful. I got to see some of the video online. It looks like a really fun event. It looks like you're very close to, to the community and to the students. I saw faculty and staff there celebrating. Tell us a little bit about your commencement. Is there a couple of student stories that stuck out to you Well one thing that I'm super proud of is that our student government has really persisted during the pandemic. Mm-hmm. I know that a lot of the, the, the student governments dissolved during that time and, but we really had a great presence. From, from student government and the stories that that come from there are amazing. Mm-hmm. our commencement speaker he he was an immigrant from the Philippines. He came over when he was 12. Mm-hmm. And really, really struggled financially with the language. He faced some discrimination and really persisted to make it through. Mm-hmm. And Is, is now transferring to Manoa. he's, he's one of the stories and, and, and that's just amplified many, many times over. Mm-hmm. over, the 140 students that we had walk over commencement not unusual. We also have, and I don't know why this story's sticking into my head a lot, but last year we had Chaz and Cham, we had a set of twins who graduated with their mm-hmm. Four year degree. Wow. And they They're from the island of ni iHow and it's really, yes. Mm-hmm. And, and so, you know, Kawaii County includes Kui and the island of Ni iHow. It is so hard to like express their story, but you know, they, they definitely really struggled between going to school, taking care of their family. Especially during the pandemic, they had elders that they didn't wanna expose. we didn't see them for two years basically, but they were, but they managed to finish their degree wow. Online and, and take care of their family. And now they are some of the last native speakers of the Niha dialect of the Hawaiian language. And Wow. So they're, they're teaching over at a School Kini, which is an immersion school Hawaiian language immersion school. Now that's amazing. And I know for some of our listeners who aren't familiar with the Island eHow, it's not open to tourists. There's, it's not open to anybody. To anybody unless you're maybe the Robinson family, but to, unless you're from, from the family. Yeah. Yes, Uhhuh. so these the individuals who live there are really, Live a very basic lifestyle and I imagine it's, it's quite a, quite a transition to have to come to even an island like Kauai. For Nihau. Yeah. And there's actually a lot of Niha who live on Koi mm-hmm. Still have ties there. Maybe they came here for school or maybe they lived here with, they're part-time. There's a lot of back and forth too. That's amazing. So You've been a community college leader here for, six years plus. Somewhere around there. And for our listeners, the community colleges are, are part of the University of Hawaii system. Mm-hmm. So, unlike some states like California, it's part of the university system. And I know that's, that's true in some, some other states throughout the country. But what would you describe as some of the biggest challenges you have as a community college leader leading a campus like Kauai Community College? as I mentioned to you just now, our, our electricity's out in most of our, of our campus, and so that's one, one of the challenges here and, and I think that this is a challenge at every community college, right, is just sort of the bureaucracy of procurement. I'm sure many folks in community colleges would agree. Yeah. So I would, so especially here when we're, you know, we're trying to buy large pieces of. Electrical supplies. it can take months and in the meantime we don't have power mm-hmm. In, in a lot of our, in our campus. So and here on our island, things just take longer because of shipping, et cetera. but you know that that's, That's one of the challenges, right. Right now in my face. Mm-hmm. I'm sure, you know, having no power is is a pretty important piece of operating here on any community college. Yeah. But I mean, that's kind of a boring problem, but sort of mundane not to the chancer, I'm sure. Right. Some of our other challenges right now coming outta the pandemic is sort of creating our own autonomy. Mm-hmm. After the pandemic, things were a lot brought very centrally together. Mm-hmm. Which meant if you, there was a hiring freeze and if you wanted to hire, then you have to ask permission as an exception. Mm-hmm. And so really trying to create who we are coming out of the pandemic. I think is a challenge, you know? Mm-hmm. Who are we gonna be to the island and our students? how do we maintain that sense of autonomy and that sense of being enco for coins? As a native Hawaiian serving institution. Mm-hmm. And not getting lost within a central system Is a struggle. And so honestly the biggest struggle right now is housing. Right. So my number one goal is to create student. Housing on campus. I, I would assume then that the challenge with housing also makes it a little harder to recruit faculty. Mm-hmm. And, and staff and, and leadership here to the, to the campus. Mm-hmm. Yeah, somewhat. we've been very lucky to receive a lot of grants through Title three, which is mm-hmm. Which is for indigenous serving institutions. Right. And then also N H e N h e A, native Hawaiian Education Association. And so, We are really focused on trying to grow our own leaders. Mm-hmm. Great. And grow our own teachers, grow our administrators and not have to recruit as much from the outside. Mm-hmm. Of course everybody needs housing, but but as a goal and within hiring parameters, that is what we're trying to do for language, for culture. Right. For that identity. With with Kauai, I'm sure it makes a huge difference for students who come to Kauai Community College to see their culture, to see themselves, to see their community represented in the classroom and in the leadership. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Exactly. Let me ask you one final question. If there was something that you wanted listeners from across the country to know about Kauai Community College, what would that be? Well, there's so many things I can't I, I would say that we strive to be a college that is for the community, mm-hmm for the students and. We strive to give every student that opportunity, whatever it takes to get them, To get them to where they wanna be. Right. Well, I mean, you just described. The heart of and the beauty of the community colleges across this nation. I mean, it's leaders like yourself who understand the struggles that your students face, who care enough wanting to change their trajectory to find talent in communities where. Many have overlooked for centuries. So Margaret, I really appreciate you taking the time to join me on the podcast and thank you for leading the Kauai Community Colleges. Thank you, Eli. Thank you so much. Thank you. All right, well, thanks everyone for joining me on the rant. If you enjoyed this episode, hit the like button. If you want to follow us, hit the subscribe button, or follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Thanks for joining us and we'll be back with you soon.