LYNNWOOD — The new president of Edmonds Community College, Amit Singh grew up in Patna, a city in northeast India and received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Patna University.
The ability to break out of a career trajectory, set while a person was in high school, was nearly impossible at that time, said Singh, who became president of Edmonds Community College on June 25.
“In India, once you hit a certain age you had to choose a track in high school, at least when I was there,” Singh said.
There was no reset switch, no undo button, no backtracking.
When Singh came to the United States in 1987 to earn a graduate degree, he discovered colleges and community colleges in the United States are open to anyone. He was startled.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I kept wondering, ‘Oh my gosh is this possible?’”
“Here you can take the prerequisites and do anything,” said Singh.
If you work in the fast food industry, for instance, and you want to become a medical technician or complete a four-year degree, you can take the required coursework and make real progress toward your goal.
Before Singh was invited by EdCC’s board of trustees to succeed President Jean Hernandez, who retired last year, Singh served as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio.
Including his time at Edmonds Community College, Singh has spent 22 years at five community colleges in four states: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and now Washington. Before taking the helm at EdCC, he served as provost and senior vice president, chief academic officer, dean, assistant dean and full-time and part-time faculty.
More than 15 years ago, he set his sights on becoming a community college president, envisioning a long-term commitment.
“I just want one presidency. It takes time to transform a college. This is a place I want to stay a long time.”
Founded in 1967, EdCC, a public, two-year community college, serves about 18,000 students each year, including more than 1,400 international students from 62 countries, he said. EdCC offers one bachelor’s of applied science degree, 63 associate degrees and 64 professional certificates in 25 programs.
Many students are from low-income backgrounds or are first-generation college students trying to navigate an often unfamiliar system.
“We play so many roles,” Singh said. That includes educating traditional students — high school students, recent high school graduates — nontraditional students who have been in the workplace and want to boost their skills or change careers, as well as those who want to continue learning for their own personal enrichment.
Unsure or not ready to decide what you want from an education?
No problem. There’s a track for that, he said.
If you don’t know what kind of career you want or you’ve never considered yourself a “good” student, or if you just plain lack confidence, the faculty and staff at a community college can serve as your guide, Singh said.
“Our goal is to help students explore the options early on,” he said.
During the first term, faculty and staff help new students choose a pathway and explore career options, while recognizing that time is not to be wasted. “It’s still money,” said Singh, mindful of tuition and other costs.
The awe he felt when he encountered the nation’s higher educational system — one that’s open to all — continues to fuel his enthusiasm.
“We’re here to open up the gateway for success.”
A little more than a month into the job, Singh has been busy meeting with faculty, students and community leaders — “I’ve already met a couple of mayors.
“I ask them what their needs are and how we can assist in helping the community,” he said. When the majority of the faculty returns from summer break, he’ll meet with them too.
Businesses, industry, nonprofits and school districts are also to be consulted.
“We all want the college to move from good to great,” he said. “But before you decide on where you want to go, you have to know where you are. My job right now is to understand where we are.”
He’s also making a study of the local economy.
The Puget Sound Regional Council has projected the region will grow by 1.8 million people in the next 30 years; 1.2 million jobs will be created, many of which would require science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.
To better meet those needs, EdCC is expected to begin construction this year of a new $48.3 million Science, Engineering, and Technology Building for training students for high-demand, high-wage jobs. The facility would likely open in 2020.
“With only half the state population, Pierce, King and Snohomish counties create two-thirds of the state’s economic output,” Singh said.
Snohomish County alone creates $50 billion of annual economic output, he said. About 250 countries around the world count gross domestic product, the value of all the goods and services produced in a year.
“If Snohomish County were a country, it would rank 85th,” said Singh, who has a doctorate in economics, master’s degrees in economics and finance and an MBA
Singh’s message to faculty and staff is this: “Your job is not going to be easy, but it will be extremely rewarding — the reward is helping someone succeed who did not think college is possible.”
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods