In Ciera Graham’s office, a small plaque conveys a big message: “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”
And where’s that? Monroe, at Everett Community College’s East County Campus. In early February, Graham took over as director of the small campus, which is housed on two floors of the Lake Tye Building.
At 32, Graham comes to EvCC from Washington State University Everett. There, she was associate director of student affairs. She established a food pantry last year for students in need, collecting donations at WSU football watch parties. She launched a chapter of Society of Women Engineers and a CARE team, an outreach effort aimed at helping university students in distress.
“I’m a Coug,” said Graham, who spent 2004-2010 on WSU’s Pullman campus earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in counseling. She also has a doctorate in sociology from the University of Cincinnati.
Her predecessor as director of the Monroe campus was Mostafa Ghous. He’s now at Hartnell College in California as dean of south county education services. “Mostafa is excited to come back home to the Bay Area,” said an announcement last July on the Hartnell College website.
The Monroe campus had an interim director before Graham’s arrival, EvCC spokeswoman Katherine Schiffner said.
Graham’s new role raises a question: Why move from a job at a four-year university to a community college position?
Whether for returning students or teens, for associate degrees or certificates, for English language classes or testing to earn a GED, a community college can open doors to promising futures.
“Working at WSU, I saw the students community colleges serve and the course work they’ve done. I understand the importance of community colleges,” Graham said.
The Monroe campus offers higher education for students with limited travel options. “They’re juggling jobs, they’re juggling high school and Running Start,” she said.
Her doctoral thesis explored black student organizations on predominantly white campuses. That research included interviews with 40 students, half from an urban campus in Cincinnati, the other 20 from the more rural Ohio University.
Graham, who grew up in Tukwila, said being part of a Black Women’s Caucus at WSU was an important way to connect with others during her years in Pullman.
At the Monroe EvCC campus, more than 400 students were enrolled in day, evening or online courses during fall quarter 2018. On Wednesday, students were studying or working on computers in a small lounge called the Chill Spot. A hallway was crowded just before class time.
Alyssa Jackson, 35, is a 2016 EvCC graduate who studied at the East County Campus. The Snohomish woman now works there as an instructional tech, after earning a bachelor’s degree in applied science from Central Washington University. Jackson said she started college in Monroe after being laid off from a job in Seattle.
Graham, who lives in Everett, serves on the board for Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County. The agency that provides direct services to victims also raises awareness about healthy relationships. That information is important for students, she said.
From a balcony in the Lake Tye Building, which has a Subway and other businesses on the ground floor, EvCC work-study students Leon Field and Michael Fairburn were hanging a banner Wednesday. “Register now for Spring Quarter,” it says.
“It’s tough to get the word out,” said Graham, who thinks a campus name change to include “Monroe” might help.
The East County Campus isn’t new. Its 20-year history dates to 1999, when EvCC first offered classes at Monroe High School in partnership with the Monroe School District.
“I love my students out here,” said Sandy Lepper, who for two decades has taught art and other college classes in Monroe.