Meet Dr. L. Marshall Washington

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Dr. L. Marshall Washington began his tenure as the third president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College on July 2. As the college’s new leader, he presides over a public institution with four campuses, which include student-run restaurants, state-of-the-art training facilities for health care careers and professional trades and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. He brings experience and passion for serving students, faculty, staff and the community to his role.

Throughout his career, his leadership style has been characterized by an openness to input, humility, cooperation, trust and above all, a bias for action. He attributes his love of learning and education to the people who believed and invested in him as he made the journey from first generation college graduate to president of a multi-campus institution. “So many people had an impact on who I am as a person and as an educator, ”Washington said. “There were people behind the scenes who have made an impact on my life and have helped me along the way – not always the people who had degrees.”

During a recent interview with KV Focus, he fondly recalled an elementary school custodian who encouraged him to do his best, including helping him learn about basketball and cheering him up on a particularly bad day. He also remembers the husband of an Upward Bound college prep mentor teaching him to drive a five-speed car and taking him for a ride in a single-engine airplane. “I’ve had some wonderful experiences,” Washington said.

Increasing positive student experiences and removing barriers which limit student success, are priorities as he begins his work in west Michigan. The Columbus, Ohio native brings a wealth of experience to the college. Most recently, Washington spent five years as president of New River Community and Technical College (New River CTC) in West Virginia. He also served as vice president and CEO at the Lancaster Campus of Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania and was formerly the vice president of Student Services at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek.

Washington received his doctorate in educational studies/specialization in educational leadership and higher education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska; a master’s degree in education from Winona State University, Winona, Minnesota; and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio.

Washington met his future wife Tonja Embry Washington while visiting Ohio Wesleyan University as a high school student. Embry Washington teaches elementary, secondary and post-secondary students. She is active in philanthropic and community initiatives, is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and The Links Incorporated. Washington and his wife of 24 years have three children, Lauren, 21, a junior at Marshall University, and high school students Ethan, 17, a senior and Jordan, 15, a junior.

KV Focus: What attracted you to Kalamazoo Valley?

Dr. Washington: It is a pleasure to return to Michigan. Kalamazoo Valley has long been a respected leader in southwest Michigan. The college’s long-term President Marilyn Schlack, solid finances, sterling facilities and innovative programs were all factors in my decision to return to Michigan.

KV Focus: Increasingly, parents and students are questioning the value of a college education. How do you answer skeptics who are reluctant to make an investment in post-secondary education?

Dr. Washington: This is our story to tell and we need to present the facts associated with the benefits of a community college education. Kalamazoo Valley has always been able to hold the line against spiraling tuition costs, making it one of the most affordable colleges in the state. The college has been preparing students for meaningful careers in high demand fields for more than 50 years. To help us better prepare students for life after college, we need to better understand their post-graduation and transfer challenges and accomplishments.

KV Focus: The college attracts a wide variety of students including 4.0 GPA high school graduates to those who plan to transfer to a four-year college, to adults who are returning to retrain after being downsized, to those seeking competencies for advancement in the workforce. How can Kalamazoo Valley create and maintain the support services needed for these diverse groups?

Dr. Washington: Harnessing and utilizing technology is one way we can continue to address the needs of our multiple student groups. Technology can help us increase and improve access to our student services. Additionally, it is important for the college to reach out to traditional collaborators including K-12, KalamazooRESA, the Allegan and Van Buren County ISDs and others to strengthen relationships. Plus, I want to know how we can more closely align with area employers to understand their needs. These are just a few ways we can be more proactive in the community.

KV Focus: What is the role of technology in the classroom?

Dr. Washington: We need to consider the learning needs of our students. How can we better serve both traditional and non-traditional students? How have students been learning? What are our transfer college institutions requiring? By working together, we will find the right combination of online, blended and face-to-face classroom courses that will enhance students’ ability to complete their degrees and certificates in a timely manner.

KV Focus: Out-of-state colleges and universities target Michigan high school graduates for application and enrollment. What can the college do to keep area students at home and at Kalamazoo Valley?

Dr. Washington: Quality instruction, cost and timely degree completion are all important to students and their families. Meeting these requirements is our priority. I believe we need to ask our students about their needs and then respond.

KV Focus: How have your accomplishments prepared you for your role at Kalamazoo Valley? What are some of the projects you have been associated with of which you are most proud?

Dr. Washington: I have always been focused on student success. While at New River CTC, we increased the number of Guided Pathways programs to nurture student success and retention, while actively participating as a Persistence and Completion Academy Higher Learning Commission member institution. Moreover, I have always believed that students learn better when they have the facilities they need. I have been involved in numerous campus improvement and expansion projects including a $13.5 million 55,000-square-foot administrative headquarters and Raleigh County Campus at New River CTC and the $5.8 million renovation of the arts and sciences building on New River CTC’s Greenbrier Valley Campus. Also at New River CTC, I led the effort to add new health care careers programs with a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. In addition, while at New River CTC, the college received a $1.3 million grant through the state of West Virginia and the U.S. Department of Labor, which allowed the creation of modularized programs in welding, line service mechanic, and computer science IT aimed at reaching out to displaced workers, veterans, National Guard members and adults who have had some post-secondary education but never completed their degrees.

KV Focus: How do you plan to learn about the college community and broader community during your first 100 days?

Dr. Washington: I am asking many questions and I am listening. I am spending time on all of our campuses and in the communities we serve. Kalamazoo Valley has a very successful record of accomplishments. I want to build on that. This will require that the college continues to change - change will be driven by the evolving needs of students, employers and communities in west Michigan.

KV Focus: How would you characterize the opportunity for growth of the college during the next five years?

Dr. Washington: The future is bright. There are many groups and individuals who are already helping the college achieve great things. Our faculty, administrators and staff want to make Kalamazoo Valley an outstanding place for all students, from all walks of life. Working with them, the Board of Trustees and the community, I will strive to ensure we have the support we need. In addition, there are friends both old and new, just waiting to join us on this journey. I will make sure that we extend the invitation.

This article was posted on 07/05/2018.