As members of the Walla Walla Community College Board of Trustees, we deeply appreciate this community’s heightened concern and attention for a local institution that plays a very important role for students and our region’s economy.

As many of you know, WWCC President Derek Brandes tendered his resignation this past Monday, and the Board appointed Chad Hickox, provost/executive vice president, as acting president.

The Board also immediately began its search for an interim president, someone who can focus on stabilizing the college budget and rebuilding reserves and ensure that the organizational structure is both transparent and makes sense. Importantly, the interim president must work with us to increase the college’s enrollment and retention numbers.

Hiring a new permanent president for Walla Walla Community College is one of the most important jobs this Board will tackle. We will create a search committee that includes a diverse group of people at the college and in the community. We will not rush or hold ourselves to a specific timeline, as our primary goal is to hire the right person who has the right vision to lead and succeed.

It is true that there have been a number of changes these past few months at the college. However, we want to make sure people know that the mission of WWCC has not changed. We all remain — Board members, faculty, administrators, staff and community partners — committed to students’ success.

Let there be no doubt that WWCC remains strong. While there has been a lot of focus on recent budget cuts, we want to underscore that the College is a $30-plus million operation that adds significant economic value to the local economy.

For example, during the current semester WWCC has enrolled 2,658 students, with approximately 60 percent enrolled in one of the many WWCC workforce programs that are designed and delivered to meet the changing employment needs of the communities we serve.

Many people are unaware that WWCC operates the second largest nursing program in the state of Washington, with 280 active students in Walla Walla and Clarkston.

Nearly 80 percent of those students graduate, receive certification and join the health care sector. These are students who go to work in our community clinics and hospitals, delivering services that our families need and depend upon.

While it is true that WWCC has discontinued certain workforce programs due to lower enrollment, the college is also creating new, high-quality programs to address demand.

For example, the college’s popular cosmetology program is growing. Starting in April, WWCC will add courses teaching students how to apply acrylic nails and instruction on what they need to do to secure a business license.

We know that the key to ongoing student success is making sure that the right supports are in place, whether that is help securing financial aid, providing emergency food supplies or something as basic as making sure everyone feels welcome.

WWCC not only exceeds in these areas, but administrators, faculty and staff are finding ways to improve upon these services. For example, this year WWCC created a new Welcome Center, a point of first contact for all visitors.

As Board of Trustees members and community leaders, we frequently have the privilege and pleasure of meeting students and hearing their extraordinary and inspiring stories.

For example, a former WWCC student was recently among those recognized during a conference of Washington state community college trustees. His name is Jacob Lorang, and he had enrolled at WWCC when he was 36 years old. Prior to enrolling, Jacob had experienced two traumatic deaths in his family and a serious work injury to himself. In his own words, he shared: “I went to college to find my way back from the edge of the map.”

Thanks to a WWCC counselor, Jacob says he not only found his way back, but also his way forward. Today he is pursuing a four-year degree in sociology at Whitman College.

While there has been and will be lots of ongoing change at Walla Walla Community College, let’s not forget that the institution has stood strong for more than 50 years.

We must remain nimble to address changing demographics and economic trends. Let’s take pride in our College’s accomplishments and work together to build an even stronger future for WWCC.

Tim Burt serves as chairman of the WWCC Board of Trustees. Sergio Hernandez is vice chairman.