PORT ANGELES — Suzanne Ames hasn’t had a chance to do much exploring since she arrived in Port Angeles to become the seventh president of Peninsula College.
She hasn’t visited Hurricane Ridge or ridden her bike on the Olympic Discovery Trail. She’d love to try out one of the local golf courses, but she hasn’t had time.
But since her first official day on campus was July 11 — just five days ago — she’s been preoccupied with getting to know the college and its operations, getting ready for the fall quarter that starts Sept. 26 and preparing to address challenges that Peninsula College shares with community colleges across the country, such as declining enrollment.
Ames does have a place to live, however, and was thrilled that the home she and her husband, Tony Ames, purchased on Mount Angeles Road is a mere six-minutes from the college. It took her 90-minutes to drive from her home in Stanwood to her previous position as vice president of instruction Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland.
“I was so excited, I just said, ‘Yes!’” Ames laughed. “We really have a lot to learn about the community, but everything I have learned is just super exciting and confirming that this is good for you and the place we plan on calling home.”
“We” includes Cooper, a 12-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, who is living with Suzanne Ames in Port Angeles while Tony Ames has been preparing their home in Stanwood for sale and packing up the contents for movers. They hope to be completely moved in by the first week of August.
Peninsula College announced Ames as its next president in April and hired her on a three-year contract at an annual salary of $230,000. She replaced Luke Robins who was hired as president in 2012 and retired this year. She is the second woman president of Peninsula College; the first, Joyce Helens, resigned under pressure in 1994 after two tumultuous years.
Ames said she had never considered going into education after graduating from Lynwood High School. She attended Edmonds Community College for two years to study journalism and earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Washington (in communications and political science). It was only after landing a job as the director of marketing and communications at Cascadia Community College in Bothel that she knew that’s where she wanted to be.
“I quickly fell in love with it and quickly decided that that was going to be my career path,” she said.
Ames went on to earn a masters of business administration and marketing from City University in Seattle, and doctor of education in educational leadership for change from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. At the same time, she began working her way up into increasingly higher-level leadership positions at community and technical colleges in Washington state.
As the vice president of instruction at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Ames was in charge of supervising and directing educational programs and responsible for instructional policies and procedures.
“It was guiding, coaching, mentoring faculty to create and innovate in the classroom and supervised deans to help them support faculty,” Ames said.
As president, Ames said she can be even more effective at two critical elements of making the community college experience a success: Clearing away bureaucracy so people can do their jobs better and bringing resources to the table.
“This college has really solid funding sources to start new programs, primarily donors and grants,” Ames said.
Nonetheless, the federal funding Peninsula College received as part of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (part of the CARES Act) has ended. And enrollment decline, which the federal money was in part intended to compensate for, hasn’t bounced back yet.
“It’s on us to pivot and figure out how we’re going to revive enrollment,” Ames said. “This 2022-23 school year restoring our enrollment will be the top priority.”
Ames said that raising the visibility of Peninsula College through sustained community outreach, finding and engaging with people who don’t consider themselves “college material” and creating a welcoming environment will be key to attracting students.
The first step in this process will be the Fall Spectacular on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Port Angeles campus. It will feature everything from a 24-foot inflatable slide for children to a beer garden for adults.
Another of Ames’ strategies for raising enrollment involves working with local businesses to identify skill gaps and find ways in which they can work together to find solutions that will benefit job seekers, employers and the local economy.
“The college is very interested in hearing the workforce needs of our local employers and then doing what we do, which is being responsive and creating educational programs that meet their needs,” Ames said.
Professional technical programs in paralegal and media technician studies, both of which were developed in response to local demand and were in the works before Ames’ arrival, will start in the fall.
As a former reporter at the Everett Herald, Ames said she would also like to see the college’s journalism program, which has been seen a drastic drop in enrollment, have a more prominent role in the curriculum.
“I am very passionate about the knowledge, skills, and abilities that come from a journalism theory that are transferable to virtually every industry. And I think it’s a matter of packaging those and raising the awareness of what happens when you learn those skills,” she said.
Ames said that Peninsula College’s role in the North Olympic Peninsula’s communities and across all of its campuses — Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Forks — will be foremost in her mind as she leads the school as president.
“I was a first generation college student, so I know what it means to feel like higher education is not for me,” Ames said.
“I want to create a college that breaks down the fear and the barriers and the bureaucracy so that every member of the community feels like this is their college and that they belong and their family members belong.”
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at Paula.Hunt@soundpublishing.com