Late last month I had the honor of being selected as Walla Walla Community College’s fifth president. I want to thank everyone who took the time to provide input to the Board of Trustees about what WWCC needs in a leader and about the vital role the college plays for our students and the communities it serves.

There’s no question that challenges created by COVID-19, including the loss of state funding for the college due to decreased tax collections, will continue to require much attention over the coming weeks and months.

We have, and will, safely deliver high-quality education to our students. Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties are in Phase 2 or beyond of Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start plan to reopen the economy.

WWCC is likewise welcoming a very limited number of students, faculty, and staff back onto our campuses with state-mandated stringent safety and distancing policies in place.

As we adjust to changes all around us, I want to take this opportunity to look longer term, to introduce myself and to share my thoughts about the future of our college.

I am at WWCC — and in this community — by choice. I was raised in a rural agricultural community and I have lived in small towns and big cities, but I truly feel at home in Walla Walla. I earned my bachelor’s degree from the College of Idaho and my Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University at Buffalo (SUNY).

In February of 2018, I came to Walla Walla as the vice president of instruction following an extensive interview process. I also served as the executive vice president/provost from July of 2019 until March of this year.

I chose to dedicate my career to the community college mission. For over 24 years I have worked in higher education, and I come into this role at Walla Walla Community College full of energy and optimism about its continued success.

When the need arose, I was honored to be considered by the Board of Trustees for the position of WWCC president because I believe this college continues to be a world-class institution. I am impressed every day by the dedication of the WWCC faculty and staff, and I am humbled by the talent and resilience of our students.

This college and our students could not endure without the strong ties this institution has with its community partners. We are fortunate to have many individuals, businesses and organizations that generously support our students, offering both on-the-job instruction and contributing $1 million for direct student support this past year.

These partnerships also create synergies between the college and the local economy.

Most of us are aware that the wine industry in our region grew alongside the development and success of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at WWCC, in a mutually-beneficial partnership. That model can, and is being, replicated as we work to create a vital regional economy.

Similarly, many of our graduates go on to advanced study in medicine, law, business, as well as in the arts and sciences. Launching successful students is our purpose, whether they enter the workforce immediately or continue their studies by transferring to a university.

As WWCC president, I intend to continue to strengthen partnerships with local chambers of commerce, the Port of Walla Walla, and other regional economic development agencies. Working together, I am confident we can identify and foster other areas ripe for development.

This community college will continue to be an incubator for new ideas and innovation. At the same time, WWCC will regularly evaluate our existing programs to ensure they are relevant to our students and local employers.

That means we may occasionally close programs to put those resources elsewhere, but we also continue to develop new programs and offerings to meet the changing needs of our students and the communities that we serve.

Now more than ever, as we find ourselves living in tumultuous times, it’s imperative that WWCC reflect the demographics and meet the needs of our diverse communities.

Throughout my career and in this new role, I remain committed to equity, inclusion, and social justice. Individuals and society as a whole benefit from widespread educational access and attainment, so we must create systems to ensure equal access, that all students and employees feel welcomed, and that we provide space for thoughtful, relevant community conversation.

I am looking forward to being this college’s ambassador to the region, state and beyond; and to getting further acquainted with our communities. In the meantime, I invite you to email me with questions and feedback at chad.hickox@wwcc.edu. I believe that we are stronger when we work together. That’s true now, more than ever.

Chad Hickox is president of Walla Walla Community College.