An Interview with President Kemper-Pelle

RCC President Cathy Kemper-Pelle

Rogue Community College President Cathy Kemper-Pelle was recently interviewed for the “Innovation in Education” radio program on KMED FM 106.7. Kemper-Pelle discussed Rogue’s efforts to build strong community and business partnerships, the college’s strategic plan and upcoming capital improvement projects. For the complete interview, listen on YouTube or read the transcript here:

Greetings Southern Oregon, this is Julie Niles-Fry with “Innovation in Education” brought to you by Logos Public Charter School. It is great to be with you this morning where we bring youth and career together, working with businesses all over Southern Oregon to ensure that our youth are well placed into the economic environment here in Southern Oregon and have a future here to help us and our businesses grow.

Today my interview is going to be with Dr. Cathy Kemper-Pelle from RCC, and she’s been with RCC for, well, I think over a year now but we’re going to investigate with the doctor what exactly is RCC doing and how are they integrating youth, younger and younger, into the college system so that they are more prepared for the workplace. Good morning, Cathy.

Kemper-Pelle: Good morning, Julie.

Niles-Fry: Thank you. Good to be with you. I’m so glad that you came.

Kemper-Pelle: Great to be here, thanks for inviting me.

Niles-Fry: So I think we all want to know, how long have you been with RCC now?

Kemper-Pelle: My one-year anniversary was July 1.

Niles-Fry: That’s what I thought, it was really recent. And what brought you to Southern Oregon, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Kemper-Pelle: Sure, most of my community college career has been in Texas. I started off as a biology faculty member and worked my way up to department chair, dean, eventually vice president of instruction. I was at three different community colleges in the greater Houston area over the course of my career. My husband and I have always wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest, and when I started looking for presidential opportunities, I stopped using Texas borders as my guideline and I started looking at the characteristics of the college that I wanted to be at rather than geography and Rogue popped up on the radar very early.

Niles-Fry: What characteristics did they have that inspired you?

Kemper-Pelle: Very student focused, a reputation for being student-focused. A reputation for being fiscally responsible. A reputation amongst their state colleagues as being a well-run, well-respected institution. A good reputation in the community.

Niles-Fry: Good to know. Well, that’s good to hear, right? [K-P: Absolutely] From somebody coming from outside of our region. Of course, we just kind of take it for granted, I believe. You know, RCC is here, if you want to take some classes, etc. But we really do have a reputation for being a great school. [K-P: Absolutely] And pretty innovative which we’re going to get into talking about too, and I’m always impressed with that. So how does RCC get people a job? What is your placement in our environment here in the region that actually compels people or propels them into the workforce?

Kemper-Pelle: Well like all community colleges, we are what you might call a full-service institution. We don’t just concentrate on people who are pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree. We have all kinds of different educational opportunities. So we offer classes that may be a day or two days long to maybe a few weeks through our Continuing Education office. The programs there are what we call just-in-time training that allow people to immediately get skills and immediately put them to work. We also do, through our career and technical programs, we have career and technical programs that are credit and the credits will transfer to other institutions and those programs can range anywhere from six months to two years and they are designed to immediately place the graduate in the workplace. Many of those have apprenticeships or other opportunities associated with them like internships or practicums where the students are in the workplace getting their hands-on experience while they’re still in the classroom finishing their certificate or degree.

Niles-Fry: Nice. So when we talk about this and in fact I was listening this morning about that and was really fascinated about all the different businesses that can literally send people to you to get them updated or to get a new skill, etc. We don’t hear much about that. I think, if you’ll beg my pardon, I really just think that I think about it as high school kids getting out of high school and going to get their two-year either associate’s degree or a transfer degree to go on to a four-year university. And of course there’s some assorted technical things that you can go learn, but I think that Southern Oregon may not know the breadth of all that you do. And this career component directed at businesses is fascinating to me.

Kemper-Pelle: I’ve been accompanying Coleen Padilla from SOREDI out on some industry tours and meeting with the CEOs of various companies in the valley. One of the things I’m hearing is there used to be a grant that helped us promote that kind of training. We’re still doing that training, but the marketing piece has kind of gone away. And so one of the things that I’m doing is I’m asking a lot of the industry groups in the area to help us get the word out that this incumbent worker training is still available. It never went away. We still do progressively more intensive levels of Excel training, we still do Quickbooks, we still do HR training, leadership training, all the things that we were doing before, we’re still offering through Continuing Education.

Niles-Fry: And this isn’t something that somebody would have to say, OK I’m going to sign up for the term.

Kemper-Pelle: Correct. These last maybe a day, maybe two days, maybe a week.

Niles-Fry: OK, and are some of those programs – because I utilized SBDC years ago, Small Business Development Center through RCC, to write a business plan. And I got huge kudos from the state for this business plan. That’s how effective that division of RCC is, they’re very good. But my question to you is, are those the same classes that you’re talking about, that I might take over at SBDC? Or would these actually be on-campus classes?

Kemper-Pelle: These are generally on-campus classes. SBDC does do training that’s targeted specifically at folks who are entrepreneurs, who are trying to start a new business. That’s not to say that folks trying to start a new business couldn’t take something through Continuing Education as well. They can utilize both opportunities. What we’re really targeting through Continuing Education is people who are already in the workplace and their employer needs them to improve their skills. I’ve talked to several companies where the person that does their Quickbooks is getting ready to retire, and there’s a lot of that happening in the region, and they need to get somebody trained in Quickbooks to assume that roll. The same with Excel, with some of the HR functions, like payroll. We teach those skills. So if companies have to do some succession planning, we can be there to help them with that.

Niles-Fry: Wow, that is super. That is really great. And so in all that you’re doing, then, you’re helping the businesses, you’re helping the new starts, the students out of high school or actually in high school as it pertains to Logos Public Charter School and then as well as somebody returning to college to finish up what they had a dream of finishing up years ago. How does RCC specifically help grow business in our region? I think what you’ve just described is one way.

Kemper-Pelle: That’s a part of it. One of the things we do is we participate in a lot of business and industry groups in the area that are working to enlighten the residents of our region of what kind of job opportunities are out there. We all drive down the highway and we pass these big metal buildings and don’t know what’s going on inside of them, and there’s some very exciting, highly technical, well-paying jobs to be had in these industries. And so one of the things that we’re doing is connecting with those industries so that we can communicate with our students just what are those opportunities; our faculty can know what is it we need to be teaching in the classroom to prepare our students for these jobs; how can we connect our students to internships and other experiences that will make them even more likely to be employable after they finish with RCC; and how can we create synergy in terms of equipment and things of that nature? We had a meeting this morning in which we were talking about an expensive piece of equipment that RCC owns that we can share with others rather than them going out and spending over $100,000 on this piece of equipment that doesn’t get used often but is very critical to some of our industries’ needs. And we already own one, so how can we share that with others and leverage our resources better?

Niles-Fry: That’s incredible. So you’re really giving back to the community. I think of you as being, I’m a customer to you. I’m going to buy your service, and your service is going to teach me what I want to know in order to propel myself further, but you’re really creating bonds, partnerships, development centers, so to speak, and a true resource for any business or even entrepreneur.

Kemper-Pelle: Well, we really can’t change the employment picture of our region, any of us alone. We have to create collaborative partnerships in which we are coming at it from a lot of different perspectives in order for us to create the educational pathways that will lead to those careers.

Niles-Fry: Right. So tell us about some of your pathways. Let’s talk about that. The pathways at RCC, there are so many.

Kemper-Pelle: There are. Just in the career and technical side, we’re looking at about 80 different pathways. We have pathways in healthcare, that’s one of the biggest sectors in our region in terms of employment. Advanced manufacturing is another big sector here that we serve. IT and computer programming is another sector that we serve. Those are the three biggest ones, but there’s also things like, well, it would fall under healthcare, but emergency medical services, firefighting, sometimes people don’t think of those as healthcare professions, but in fact they are.

Niles-Fry: They are. Because your firefighters usually have an EMT, right, on the firetruck, or a paramedic even.

Kemper-Pelle: Sure. We have an extremely close partnership with Fire District 3 and we work with them to train our EMT and firefighters and you’ll find that most of the firefighters in the region have come through the RCC program.

Niles-Fry: Very good. And so when you create those programs are you creating for the region because the region’s communicating to you, look, we need this and that, and then you’re developing the classes, or is it kind of standard across the United States where, you know what, in general that these are the kind of classes that you’re going to want to teach and if you put these out in your community, somebody will take them.

Kemper-Pelle: It depends on the program. Some programs are accredited nationally or regionally and have a standardized curriculum that’s prescribed. And then there are other programs that we can customize for the region.

Niles-Fry: OK, very nimble. I don’t think of a bureaucracy as big as a public funded bureaucracy, so to speak, as being nimble. And yet you’ve demonstrated today and other times that I’ve heard you speak, that you really are a nimble place to be. And businesses and students and adults all can rely upon a great tool being there for them, and an affordable one.

Kemper-Pelle: Oh, absolutely. It’s not just here. This is a national perspective. Community colleges were designed and built to serve their local communities, and hence, it’s in the name. We were designed to help get people employed, and help give the underserved opportunities to get out of, maybe, multi-generational poverty, break those bonds and become a productive citizen who’s earning a living wage.


Niles-Fry: This is Julie Niles-Fry and I’m here with Dr. Cathy Kemper-Pelle who is enlightening us on all that RCC offers and really the amazing thing for me is to discover that whether you are a workplace and just simply need to tune up some of the skills of some of your employees, or whether you’re a high school student or young person entering the workforce and needing some certifications or education, or whether you are returning to learn some new skills or finish that college degree, or get on a new path, RCC is here for you and very locally oriented as far as what we’re doing in the region with this institution. So, Cathy, welcome back. [K-P: Thank you] I want to talk about your strategic plan. This is some big news that we’ve been hearing about lately. Tell us what that is and it’s important to us. How is it going to help us?

Kemper-Pelle: We are required by our accreditors to have a strategic plan and a mission, vision, and goals. I’ve done a lot of strategic planning in my career and one of the things that I’ve learned is, the bigger the plan the less likely you are to achieve it. One of the things we wanted to do was streamline our strategic plan and make it measureable. We wanted to be able to demonstrate to our community that we’re doing what we say we want to do, and at the same time also demonstrate that to our accreditors and be able to show in a very visible way what we’re about and get community input along the way. I was really committed when we decided to revise the plan that we were going to bring in a consultant to help us conduct a lot of interviews, a lot of focus groups, online surveys, and ensure that we had broad input from all of our constituent groups.

Niles-Fry: Nice. And what results did that yield? Is that plan complete or is it still in the works?

Kemper-Pelle: That plan is complete. It was approved by our board at our, I believe, July board meeting and we are implementing the plan now, as we speak. The exciting thing was that we had such phenomenal participation from the community. We had about I want to say 14 focus groups scattered across our three campuses in which the average attendance was eight to 10 community members per focus group, so that was a really high level of participation to come and give us feedback on what the community thought we should be doing. Also, our online survey netted 774 responses, which our consultant was absolutely thrilled with. He expected about 200. [N-F: Wow, that’s awesome.] Half of those were students, and then, of the remaining half, the majority of those were community.

Niles-Fry: Oh, good. And what did they tell you?

Kemper-Pelle: They told us that they really would like to see us work on our programs, work on our schedule of when we offer classes and see if we can improve our scheduling. They gave us a lot of feedback about individual programs, how individual programs could be improved, some suggestions for possible new programs, and some great information from students about the kinds of things that might help them stay in school when they’re challenged and facing possibly dropping out, resources that we might be able to provide them.

Niles-Fry: Oh, very good. So you really did get a good sampling there.

Kemper-Pelle: Very good.

Niles-Fry: Very nice. So, where does that strategic plan take us? What does it look like five years down the road? What’s going to be different at RCC, better or improved? What will have changed?

Kemper-Pelle: I think that what’s really going to have changed is that a lot of complicated systems within the college are going to be less complicated, much more student-focused and more efficient so that we’re able to meet all of the demands of accountability more effectively. Community colleges, higher education in general, is going through a big shift in that we’re being held much more accountable by state and federal governments. There’s massive amounts of data that we have to submit now in reports. Having our systems in place so that we’re gathering the right information, and using, analyzing that information to learn more about our students and how we can serve them better.

Niles-Fry: Nice. How many people a year do you graduate, do you know? That was kind of an off-the-cuff thought.

Kemper-Pell: Gosh, I want to say it was between 700 and 800 that actually graduated last year, and about 50 percent of those actually walk at graduation.

Niles-Fry: Oh, okay, very cool. I know somebody that did walk but I forgot to ask him how many people were there. How many people are doing that these days? And all ages probably, huh?

Kemper-Pelle: Oh, absolutely. It’s really fun. Our youngest graduate was a Logos student, I believe, who was, I want to say, 17 and our oldest student was around 65.

Niles-Fry: Oh, that is so fantastic. You know, I think that’s the thing that I think we teach people the most at Logos is whether you’re going to college or career, whether you’re young or whether you’re getting close to graduation, education just doesn’t end. The brilliance of having a system where you can just literally plug and play, it’s a very simple system as far as entry into RCC. My son is 18, so I got to go through the whole FAFSA process, and all of those things that schools set up career nights for to try to figure out how to do, and I thought, my gosh, this is so easy. All’s you have to is sit down at the computer and fill out a form for 10 minutes, it’s all just so easy. And I’ve had to interface with your staff a couple times and they know their job, they know what they’re doing. It hasn’t taken more than a few minutes to get an answer, a very streamlined process. So if anybody thinks that college is out there and it’s too hard, and it’s not easy to get into or to navigate, I say, that’s not true.

Kemper-Pelle: I think you’re right about that, and also there’s a misperception that college is not affordable and community college is one-third the cost of a four-year university. You mentioned the FAFSA, which is the application for the federal financial aid. We give out a huge amount of money in Pell Grants every year for students who qualify, but our RCC Foundation also gives out almost a half a million dollars a year in scholarships to students who need financial support.

Niles-Fry: Yeah, and just one application gets them the opportunity to view 100 different scholarships. That’s phenomenal, so again that process is so streamlined and really some brilliance behind it in making it super easy for whatever age you are, whatever intellect. You feel you’re not smart enough to do it, oh believe me, you’re smart enough to do it, right? It does not take a degree to fill out those forms, that’s for sure. You passed a capital construction bond recently, just last year, 2016. What’s the update on that? This is pretty exciting news, I think.

Kemper-Pelle: This is really exciting news. The bond that we passed was for $20 million and because of our great financial status, the bonds actually sold for $23.3 million, so we wound up with some extra money there, but then we also have received two state matches and an EDA grant. The state matches, one is for $8 million for a health professions building at our Table Rock Campus, the other is for $6 million and that is for renovation of a nursing and science building at the Redwood Campus. And then the EDA grant is $1.2 million and that is helping supplement the bond money that we are using to renovate a building at the Table Rock Campus that is becoming our high-tech center, which is going to be house our welding and advanced manufacturing and maker space.

Niles-Fry: Oh, the maker space, you know I’m so excited about that idea. And, by the way out there, if you don’t know what one is, you’ve got to google maker space. But we’re going to have one here, so you can just go to RCC and see and look at it. Tell me about that. When is that completion rate going to happen?

Kemper-Pelle: That is an 8-month renovation project, which we just have put out the RFP for construction here in the last week, so we expect that by fall of 2018, we should be moved in and ready to go in that space. We’re very excited about that because this is going to allow students to have access to state-of-the-art equipment in the laboratory spaces. The maker space will be a collaborative space where students can work together, they can work with faculty, they can work with industry people and use state-of-the-art equipment. We can use the maker space to do STEM outreach to our high schools also so that students can see the kind of equipment that’s used in the workplace and what kind of technology that is, and maybe understand why it is you have to have at least some college in order to get these jobs because they are technical.

Niles-Fry: This is Julie Niles-Fry with “Innovation and Education.” It has been an honor to be with you today and absolutely a blast to learn all that RCC is doing. Please go to and check out what you are missing because you certainly are missing something if you’re not checking out RCC.