Dr. Jean Hernandez may be leaving the president’s office at Edmonds Community College, but expect to see her around South Snohomish County in a new capacity — as a volunteer for causes she believes in.
“South Snohomish County is a very special place where people support each other and are committed to our community,” said Hernandez, who announced last week that she is retiring after six years at the helm of EdCC. “I look forward to doing some of the projects that I feel passionate about but the time was never there.”
Hernandez said she plans to stay involved with the Lynnwood Rotary, and continue serving on the boards of the Edmonds Boys and Girls Club and College Spark Washington, which funds programs that assist low-income students attend college. She will also attend the annual Edmonds CC fundraising gala and help “in a limited role” with college foundation projects, she said.
Mostly, though, she hopes to dive into causes that in the past she couldn’t tackle due to her EdCC work, such as homelessness and related social issues.
Hernandez, who is staying at the college through December, said that one factor in her decision to retire was the death of both parents in 2016. “My parents were great about being involved in the community, and I feel like what my involvement entails is my role as president of the college,”Hernandez said. “I want to be able to say, ‘I’m going to roll my sleeves up and work on that particular project,’ and that’s where I feel I’m missing a little bit.”
When asked to reflect on what she has enjoyed most about her time as EdCC president, Hernandez pointed to the college graduation ceremonies, which include not only larger commencement events but also smaller ones, such as those held at the Monroe Correctional Complex, where the college runs a program for inmates.
“Every time I go to those, and hear students speak, I reaffirm that I’m in the right field, because lives are being changed,” Hernandez said. “There are so many students that — whether it’s losing their job or health issues or divorce — they are trying to put their lives back together, and they’ve come to recognize that if they can get the right education and credential, they can have a better life.”
“It’s gratifying to know how many students the college has impacted and helped them to reach their educational goals,” she added.
Hernandez admits to having her share of frustrations during her time as college president, among them the ongoing battles with the Washington State Legislature to support the work of community colleges in addressing some of the state’s problems.
She points to the prison education bill, now on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for signature, which would allow inmates to earn two-year associates degrees while in prison. (Currently, inmates can only receive a GED or one-year vocational program certificate.)
While Hernandez acknowledged ongoing support from local legislators, the bill took years to get passed through the state Legislature — even though the colleges weren’t asking for funding, but the authority to run a two-year program.
She pointed to studies that show the rate of recidivism at the Walla Walla Correctional Center was 11 percent for inmates who had completed community college work, compared to a 67 percent recidivism rate statewide for inmates who had not taken community college classes.
“This is an opportunity to better our communities and our society and for people to still say no… I don’t understand that kind of reasoning,” she said.
That frustration, Hernandez said, is common for any two-year college president: “How do you advocate for the needs of community and technical colleges and really get to see movement, because it can be challenging,” she said.
Hernandez began her community college career at Shoreline Community College as a multicultural studies teacher who was promoted to dean of Health Occupations and Physical Education. She then joined Cascadia College as the executive vice president for student learning. Her next position was the vice president for instruction at South Seattle College before becoming president of Edmonds CC in January 2011.
After she leaves the college in late December, the 62-year-old Hernandez said she hopes to take two months “to rest up and catch up on sleep.” Then, in addition to immersing herself in volunteer work, she also plans to do some consulting in the field of higher education.
“It’s just been a wonderful ride,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better position to end my career on.”
— By Teresa Wippel