New RCC president 'eager to listen and learn’
Long before he became a community college president, Randy Weber was making waves in his family as a first-generation college student.
The year was 1998, and the institution was Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kansas, about three hours outside Topeka. Weber and his sister were enrolled there after growing up in a small town with a family that had few resources.
“As a low-income student, I found out that community college and the size of classes, coming from a small town, was a good match for me,” Weber said, saying scholarships and Pell grants covered the cost of attendance. “It didn’t take long for me to determine that I stood in.”
Though Weber admits there were times he asked himself, “do I belong?” he said his time in community college molded him into the leader he has become.
Once a community college adjunct professor teaching developmental math, Weber ascended through the ranks of the higher education system in the Sunflower State, and he became executive vice president, chief student success and strategy officer at Johnson County Community College, where he currently serves.
Now, Weber readies for a move to Oregon to become president of Rogue Community College July 1. He will replace Cathy Kemper-Pelle, who is retiring this summer.
“I’m eager to join the team and to listen and learn, so that I can be of the best service possible to the college and community, and most importantly our students,” Weber said.
Weber said he’d been preparing to be a community college president for a number of years and wanted to be “selective” in the opportunities he sought out.
Weber felt Oregon’s governance structure met the criteria for being a place where he thought he could succeed. He already knew a lot about the Beaver State’s higher education community based on connections made outside of Kansas.
“In talking to them when Cathy announced her retirement, I asked about Rogue (Community College), and I quickly learned about the strong reputation that the college holds in both the state and the region,” Weber said, “so I continued to do research … and started to see it as a really strong fit for me.”
Plus, the Rogue Valley seemed like a good place for his family, Weber added. So after spending time on the school’s three campuses during interviews, he became even more certain about his positive views of RCC.
“I think a town hall was a really rich part of the (interview) experience,” Weber said.
Weber’s town hall event at the Redwood campus, in which he took questions from future constituents, included a presentation listing three “key items” of importance: technology, enrollment and staffing.
“They feel very independent, but they intertwine in meaningful ways,” Weber said.
He said he visited all three RCC campuses and saw how the schhol adapted to changing technology to support better learning. Weber said the school needs to be ready to improve upon that, including incorporating universal design of tools for people with disabilities.
On the enrollment front, Weber said “it’s hard to acknowledge” that RCC’s headcount has “fallen tremendously,” down more than 4,000 students over 10 years.
In an interview with the newspaper, Weber said RCC and community colleges throughout the country face a variety of challenges, including declining enrollment.
Invoking his experience as a higher education consultant, he said, “there is not a simple answer” to fixing the enrollment problem.
“There’s no way I could convey, on April 5, having not started at the institution yet, the specific things that need to be done or approach it will take,” Weber said. “Hopefully, there is some low-hanging fruit that we can attack early.”
Weber called the school’s employees “our greatest asset,” and listed a number of ideas to help them succeed, including redoubling retention efforts and giving them professional development opportunities.
Once the town halls were complete, Weber said he came away with “a theme” from the campus community — people want to do good work and be supported.
“It became evident to me they were looking for a leader who would help them continue and grow the good work at the college,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s what ultimately led to my selection.”
RCC will not “find a bigger advocate for students and their success” than Weber, which made him the right choice to lead the RCC, said Andy Bowne, president of JCCC.
“I see, in my work with him, such care and compassion in the way he thinks about the student experience (and) the way he seeks student engagement in forming decisions we make at the college,” Bowne said.
When asked for a specific interaction Weber had with a student that impressed him, Bowne invoked Student Life Ambassador Astha Thapa, who applied for and received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Kansas. She recently told Weber that she wanted to thank Bowne, who had written a letter of recommendation for her.
“He took the time to say, ‘Hey, come on, let’s go together. Let’s go see Dr. Bowne. Let’s go tell him your good news,’” Bowne said. “That sensitivity of understanding where students are at and the needs that they have … that’s just the first, immediate example that comes to mind.”
Thapa said the interaction with Weber made her feel “valued as a student.”
“A lot of times in higher education, it’s hard for students to connect to the departments,” she said. “But here at JCCC, when someone like Dr. Weber invites me to walk with him to the president’s office to share the news, it tells you how much he values and cares about his students.”
In a town hall event held on the Redwood campus while he was interviewing for RCC president, Weber was asked about his leadership style. He described it as “inclusive,” saying he wants people to “feel empowered and heard.”
In an interview, Weber cited a quote from a colleague to describe his approach in working with students.
“‘Students are the center of our focus — without them, we cease to exist,” he said. “We have a unique opportunity, as community colleges, to transform lives. With that opportunity comes responsibility. We have to make sure our programs, our systems, our processes and our people are set up to help transform lives.”
RCC plans to introduce Weber to students, faculty, staff and the community in an informal event over the summer and in the fall, the press release said. Details will come later.
Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.