Central Oregon Community College presidential candidate Kimberlee Messina believes her experience as an administrator at various community colleges in Northern California will help her navigate COCC through its falling enrollment and flat revenue, and expressed eagerness to join COCC’s tight-knit culture.

“There seems to be a strong sense of community within the institution that I find very, very appealing,” she said during a visit to the Bend campus Monday. “People come here and stay here, because they feel that they’re doing a good job and they’re serving the students and they feel supported.”

Messina, 55, is a native of Sacramento, California, near where she earned her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of California, Davis.

After teaching Spanish at UC-Davis and Santa Rosa Junior College for more than a decade, she became the dean of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at Santa Rosa. Messina then held administrative positions at the Silicon Valley-area schools of Foothill College and San Mateo County Community College District, serving as interim president for one year at Foothill College.

Messina is one of three candidates to replace COCC President Shirley Metcalf, who is retiring July 1. The other two candidates are Laurie Chesley and Tod Treat, who currently serve as community college administrators in Michigan and Washington, respectively.

While at Foothill, Messina said she helped the college turn around a declining enrollment — a dilemma COCC has faced for six years.

“Some of the strategies that I have used with my team, first and foremost, is looking at retaining existing students, making sure we’re not losing students because we aren’t scheduling classes in a way that is the most accessible, or we’re not following up with students in way that helps them be supportive in their pathways,” she said.

Messina added that if she is selected to be COCC’s new president, she hopes to foster strong relationships with Central Oregon’s K-12 school districts. However, she said her presidency, at first, would continue to press forward with COCC’s current goals of bolstering its partnership with nearby Oregon State University-Cascades and providing more educational opportunities for rural students, rather than promoting new ideas right away.

“Before thinking about a new program, I’d want to make sure that the existing programs are doing the best that they can do,” she said. “Then, I’d look at the landscape and see what we needed to add.”

To fund those needs, Messina said she’d hope to expand COCC’s revenue sources beyond tuition, property tax and state aid, potentially through the COCC Foundation or partnering with community members.

In regards to COCC’s recent conflict with Bend-area law enforcement officials, who say the college’s campus security appeared too similar to official police and the department under-reports crimes to Bend police, Messina said she didn’t know all the details of the situation yet to make a firm stand one way or the other. But while at San Mateo, she said the college hired a consulting firm to study the college’s campus security to determine whether or not they should be armed and how they could work with local law enforcement.

“There are so many layers of complexity, so I think it’s really critical to make sure we work with our local police and with our college,” Messina said.

Messina owns her own community college consulting firm, K.S. Messina, Equity in Education Consultant. She said her experience in listening to college administrators and finding answers to their problems will be useful if she’s selected to be COCC’s president.

Messina also expressed her love of Bend, with its four pronounced seasons — although she joked that she wasn’t prepared for Monday’s snowstorm — and friendly people.

“You walk down the street and people actually look at you in the eye, instead of avoiding contact,” she said. “It seems like a really good place to dedicate my energy personally and professionally.”

When asked why she applied for COCC’s president position, Messina said she was drawn to the college’s strong reputation and drive to support career and technical education, along with her expertise in solving problems that COCC currently faces.

“I think COCC is really the jewel of the community college system here in Oregon,” she said. “It has … a real strong commitment to the community that it serves. I think we’re a really good fit, and I would love to be here.”

The other two presidential candidates will visit Central Oregon later in February. The COCC board of directors’ goal is to name the new president by early March, and the selected candidate will replace Metcalf on July 1.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com