First dean at WSU North Puget Sound venture leads change

EVERETT — Paul Pitre remembers the decision that led him down the road to a career in higher education.

He worked part time at KOMO-TV in the 1980s, running the teleprompter for the evening newscast after graduating with a communication degree from Western Washington University.

He was offered a position at a radio station to schedule advertisements. He was interested in sales and marketing and the job appealed to him.

At the same time, Pitre was asked if he wanted to interview to be a recruiter for the University of Washington.

He did the interview.

“That was really kind of a life-changing event for me,” Pitre said. “But as a recruiter, I had an opportunity to work with students. I was recruiting minority students at that and it was a really difficult decision but I decided that I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to young folks about how they could reach their goals and aspirations through college.”

He’s been in higher education ever since.

Pitre, 52, became the first dean at Washington State University North Puget Sound at Everett on Jan. 1.

WSU began managing the University Center on July 1, taking the reins from Everett Community College. The new venture brings together several universities and colleges that offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs on the community college campus.

“A lot of the day-to-day is unfolding because a lot of what we’ve done to this point is to get to the transition and with that transition, we have some new staff members,” Pitre said. “A lot of what we’re doing now and what I’m doing now is working on policies relating to the University Center and how it functions and how it will function moving forward.”

The transition went off without a hitch that day. But the change of command had bumps along the way. Initially, EvCC officials didn’t want to relinquish control and they had the backing of the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and other community leaders helped convince state lawmakers to pass legislation requiring the transfer be done.

Since then Stephanson has worked closely with Pitre to make the planting of the WSU flag a reality.

“Paul very quickly has become a valued partner in the region,” Stephanson said. “His experience and focus on expanding student higher education opportunity through the University Center has been key to a successful transition and the expansion of program offerings from the University Center consortium.”

Before Pitre started his new role, he worked as a WSU associate professor of educational leadership and a special assistant to the WSU president for academics in north Puget Sound.

He and his wife, Charisse, have been married for 12 years. Their daughter, Gabrielle, is 10 years old. Pitre holds a master’s degree from New York University and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Pitre credits his time at Olympic College in Bremerton for preparing him to lead at WSU North Puget Sound at Everett. While at the community college in the mid-1990s, he developed the 2-Plus-2 Program, which allowed students to earn bachelor degrees from four-year universities.

“My position at Olympic College has a lot to do with why I’m here,” Pitre said. “That’s the background that put me into this position.”

On his first day at Olympic College, he walked into his almost-empty office and answered the phone. A woman asked if he was the person who was putting together the 2-Plus-2 Program.

He said he was that person and she told him she was just glad he was there.

“That really was heartwarming because it let me know the community really was supportive of what I was going to do there and it has been the same experience I’ve had at Everett and North Puget Sound,” Pitre said. “People have really been receptive to WSU and to me personally, and that’s something I’ve really appreciated.”

Pitre went on to serve as an associate director of academic advising services at Central Washington University and later as an assistant professor of educational leadership at Auburn University in Alabama. He returned to Washington and started at WSU in 2005.

“I learned a lot about higher education being at a lot of institutions,” Pitre said. “I really enjoyed those experiences but I enjoyed coming back to the state of Washington. My background is higher education administration, so that’s what I’ve been teaching and so now I’m kind of living it.”

The first 23 graduates in Washington State University’s mechanical engineering program at WSU North Puget Sound at Everett received their diplomas in May.

The university launched three new four-year programs with the start of classes this week — in communication, electrical engineering and hospitality management. Plans call for offering more new programs, Pitre said.

“In terms of our strategic plan we would like to be up to 42 programs by 2021,” he said. “It seems like a lot but we can do it. It’ll take some time and focus with help from the Legislature.”

A plan for a new facility for WSU North Puget Sound at Everett is also being worked on. The Legislature in 2013 set aside $10 million for the design of a 95,000-square-foot facility across the street from Everett Community College, near the corner of North Broadway and Tower Street. A new building fits well with Pitre’s vision for WSU North Puget Sound at Everett and its partners.

“My vision for the University Center is growth,” he said. “It really has to do with working very closely with the community colleges and the K-12 systems to develop these pathways of access to higher education.”

Bob Drewel, interim chancellor of WSU at Everett, planned with Pitre to meet with partners to discuss bringing new degree programs on board.

“It’s an exciting time for this region of the state and I’m just tickled to be a part of it and to have the opportunity to work with somebody of Paul’s stature,” he said.

Earl Gibbons, vice provost of Extended Education at Western Washington University, said he’s enjoyed working with Pitre during the transition.

“I think we make a good team,” Gibbons said. “Over the two-plus years working on transition issues, we have developed a close working relationship. Western Washington University is committed to Everett and the University Center, and Paul and everyone at WSU knows this and has been supportive, just as we have tried to be supportive as they take on their new administrative responsibilities.”

Pitre believes the work being done by WSU and its partners to develop a model of four-year higher education that includes K-12, community college and four year universities could become an example.

“Everybody can’t locate to Bellingham or Pullman or even to Seattle for that matter,” he said. “I think there’s always going to be the student who wants the real traditional experience and wants to go to the traditional campus, but there will be students for whatever reason, maybe they have a family, a job, or financial constraints, that they’ll want to look to us.”

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