Peninsula College described as small but mighty

President speaks of building workforce

Suzanne Ames.

Suzanne Ames.

PORT ANGELES — Peninsula College is the second-smallest of the 34 colleges in the Washington State Community and Technical Colleges system, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in community support and the ability to make a difference in the lives of students and its impact on local businesses, said President Suzy Ames on Wednesday.

Having worked at community and technical colleges for 23 years along the I-5 corridor, Ames said the difference between her experience at those places and at Peninsula College was “night and day.”

Too many distractions, too many other educational institutions and too many other priorities made it difficult to get the attention of students, businesses and social service agencies — and to get them to work together.

“For me, it makes my job so much more meaningful because we can actually affect change right here in our local community,” said Ames on the Clallam County Economic Development Council’s “Coffee with Colleen” program via Zoom.

Linking student success to business success by building a work-ready workforce has been a priority for Ames since she arrived at Peninsula College, which is based in Port Angeles but has branches in Port Townsend and Forks, last summer.

Short certificate courses and promoting flexible course delivery that prepares students for entry into the workplace, Ames said, are designed to appeal to those who do not want to invest the time and money in a traditional two- or four-year college program.

It also hopefully will reverse a 10-year enrollment slide that started before the pandemic.

The college is continuing to build its slate of professional technical programs in areas like software development, dental hygiene and veterinary tech.

This fall, for the first time, it will offer a professional technical program in Forks — a certificate in natural resources — and it plans to bring a nursing certificate program to its Port Townsend campus fall semester as well.

Ames said the reaction to the college’s expanded offerings had been positive in terms of both feedback and funding.

“This community is very supportive of our professional technical programs, whether it’s an employer or just somebody that wants to support students, they donate a lot of money to us and we’re super grateful for them,” Ames said.

Nonetheless, many of the technical programs the college offers or is in the early stages of developing require expensive equipment to purchase and maintain. The college must fundraise or seek grants to be able to offer them.

“We need to have an electric vehicle donated to us so we can offer an electric vehicle [automotive technology] program,” she said.

“A bunch of money is directed to our nursing program every single year so we can keep that equipment up and running. One mechanized mannequin is $100,000, and upkeep of that is insanely expensive.”

Part of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges’ capital budget request this year included $2 million for each of its 34 system colleges for program improvements.

Ames said those funds would be applied to what she called “unsexy” but essential upgrades that would keep Peninsula College up and running.

“The electricity switch gears in our welding and auto repair building are over 50 years old and they’re about to fail, and if they fail, we won’t be able to offer welding and auto repair and construction trades, so part of that $2 million would go to replace those,” Ames said.

“The software that runs our HVAC system across the whole campus has failed and the software has expired, so we need to purchase a new software and a new ongoing license.”

On Monday, Feb. 27, Ames and her team met with more than 20 local social service agencies gathered at Peninsula College to build partnerships that would support students, many of whom are also their clients, she said.

Her eventual goal, Ames said, is to create an on-campus student center with wraparound services and staffed by local agencies that have knowledge, expertise and experience in assisting people with a wide variety of needs.

“The response was totally inspiring,” Ames said. “Every single one of them said ‘yes.’”


Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at