Patrick Schmitt officially took over in his role as Puyallup campus president on July 1.
He hasn’t stopped moving since.
With less than three months on the job, Schmitt has already faced record budget cuts, celebrated the opening of the Arts and Allied Health building and still found time to serve lunch to students in the dining commons.
“They asked me to be chef for a day,” Schmitt said. “Not that I’m such a great cook, but I think I can flip a veggie burger.”
It’s not every day that the college president is seen working the grill, but then again, Schmitt isn’t the average community college president.
Born in LaSalle, Ill., in 1952, Schmitt grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, and participated in debate in high school.
“At one point I was reading a book a day,” Schmitt recalled.
Schmitt earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Schmitt graduated and pursued a career in acting, but it proved to be a daunting career choice.
“I found that while I enjoyed acting, it was a very difficult area to make a career in,” Schmitt said. “I had a talent for writing and understanding scripts, and this led me to academia and education.”
Schmitt completed his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with specializations in American 20th century theatre and drama and dramatic theory and criticism.
Before moving to Pierce he served as the campus executive officer and dean at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.
With his background in the performing arts, Schmitt said the potential of the new building was one of the qualities that attracted him to the Puyallup campus.
“I don’t think it’s any accident that I have the background that I have and I’m coming into this particular position at this particular time,” Schmitt said
In his vision for the new building, Schmitt emphasized first using the space for what it was designed for.
“The theater is already booked for Pierce’s musical offerings and theatrical offerings are still being planned,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt also advocated using the auditorium to bolster events by providing a more professional venue for guest speakers and live bands.
He also said when possible he would like to open the space to the greater Puyallup arts community.
“I think what we’ll see is that amateur and semi-professional arts groups in the area will find some use in our space,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt focused on the recession as the greatest issue facing Pierce College Puyallup.
Even as economic downturn was causing state budgets to shrink, student registration continued to grow, placing a tremendous burden on the service providers of Pierce College.
“We will strive to continue to deliver an excellent education to the most people we can,” Schmitt said. “That’s who we are and that’s what we do.”
Parking on campus is always a big issue for students. Schmitt acknowledged the problem but admits the situation at Pierce isn’t likely to change soon due to budget restrictions.
“The state has told us they are not paying for new parking lots anymore,” Schmitt said. “If we create new parking we have to find a way to pay for it.”
Schmitt said college officials are looking to improve the parking situation but also stressed better time management and advocated mass transit and car pooling.
“Those are the things that make a difference,” Schmitt said “Not just in terms of being able to find a parking space but also makes a difference in terms of the life they (students) live and the world they are creating.”
Schmitt also confirmed plans for building a sports field on the Puyallup campus but cited the tremendous expense as a reason it most likely will not be constructed any time soon.
Schmitt also wants to work closely with student government and encourages students to use his open-door policy. Just be smart about it.
“I’m hoping that they’ve worked through the process before they get to me,” Schmitt said. “Don’t jump right to see the president. Typically, the system will solve their problem one way or another.”
If students really need to see the president they should call or e-mail Barbara Howard to make an appointment.
Although making an appointment with the new president is one way to meet him, don’t be surprised to spot him walking the halls. Schmitt insists that if students do see him around they call him Patrick and not President Schmitt.
“I go out and I meet people because I know it can be very difficult for some people to walk into the office of the president.
I consider conscious intentional accessibility on my part to be part of my job.” Schmitt said. “I may not solve their problem right then, but I will direct them in the right direction.”
Schmitt said he is beginning to settle into his new role and expressed appreciation for the support he has received so far.
“It’s one of the things I think about this part of Washington. I’m not sure what it is, but people are extraordinarily good. And that’s made life much easier than it might be.”
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost
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