Dr. Marshall T. Fulbright III began his opening statement on Thursday, Oct. 20 with an anecdote about his grandmother, a woman who suffered during the Great Depression. Due to racism, she worked as a janitor despite having a nursing degree from Pasadena Junior College–until a supervisor recognized her academic background.

“I’m a true believer that the junior college–community college–and the help of one person can change not only the trajectory of one person’s life but of their entire family, which is why I’m here today,” Fulbright said.

(From left to right) Dr. Tina Vasconcellos, Dr. Juan Avalos, Dr. Lisa Cooper Wilkins, Dr. Cynthia Olivo, Dr. Michael Odu, and Dr. Marshall T. Fulbright III represent the final six candidates in FC's presidential selection this semester.

(From left to right) Dr. Tina Vasconcellos, Dr. Juan Avalos, Dr. Lisa Cooper Wilkins, Dr. Cynthia Olivo, Dr. Michael Odu, and Dr. Marshall T. Fulbright III represent the final six candidates in FC's presidential selection this semester. Photo credit: Julianne Le

The six finalists of Fullerton College’s presidential selection offered insight into their platforms, particularly how they plan to address worldwide issues currently affecting FC. On Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., the finalists visited the open forum on campus to answer pre-selected questions from faculty and community members.

Thursday’s forum was the second time that candidates shared their platform with FC community members in this way. The same event occurred last semester on Apr. 7, 2022 where ultimately no candidates were chosen as FC’s president.

Political science instructor Jodi Balma said, “There are six candidates that bring different experiences and vision for the future of our college. I encourage everyone to make their preference known and get to know the people interested in leading Fullerton College.”

Community members were invited to share their feedback on the forum with the North Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees and Chancellor. The deadline was 12 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 21.

Vasconcellos speaks about the importance of "unconditional belonging" in a forum moderated by Purtell.

Vasconcellos speaks about the importance of "unconditional belonging" in a forum moderated by Purtell. Photo credit: Julianne Le

Thursday morning began with moderator and North Orange Continuing Education President, Valentina Purtell, introducing the first finalist: Dr. Tina Vasconcellos who has been working in the community college circuit for over 25 years.

Vasconcellos promoted ideas about social justice, servicing students, and belonging within the Fullerton College environment. “I’m trained as a therapist, so my nature is to communicate. My nature is to hear from you all and to know what is happening for you and what your experience is so that we can move through things together.”

While serving as the Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at Laney College, Vasconcellos inherited a program that was $400,000 in debt. She shared how thorough communication helped her to prevent the firing of multiple faculty members.

Avalos answers moderator Putrell at Oct. 20's Finalist Forum.

Avalos shares his "interest-based approach" with moderator Purtell at Oct. 20's Finalist Forum. Photo credit: Bryan Chavez

Dr. Juan Avalos currently serves as the Vice President for Student Services at Saddleback College. The former Hornet has nearly 30 years of experience in the field of higher education.

Avalos shared his insights on student retention and the importance of lived experiences. Regarding recent declines in enrollment, he introduced adaptability as a solution.

“We know where the new pockets of opportunities lie. Maybe there’s new programs we have to create, there’s new populations we need to attract. Now how are we going to retransform our college and the way we operate to better serve them so that we can maximize their dreams while also fulfilling the goals of this college?” Avalos said.

The third candidate to speak was Dr. Lisa Cooper Wilkins, City College of San Francisco’s current Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. Her main goals involve anti-racism and equity, retaining enrollment, and improving student services so that learning can be students’ primary focus.

As a first-generation student of color herself, these issues are a priority. “As we uplift and strengthen those most marginalized communities, it only further strengthens the totality of the community.”

Cooper Wilkins’ strategies for improving enrollment include establishing flexibility in class schedules and adding more support services focused on transportation, food insecurity, and mental health. She stressed the importance of making sure these services are accessible and easy to find for students.

Two attendees convene during Thursday's forum, discussing Fulbright's mission.

Two attendees convene during Thursday's forum, discussing Fulbright's mission. Photo credit: Julianne Le

After a lunch break, moderator Dr. Cherry Li-Bugg, NOCCCD Vice Chancellor of Educational Services and Technology, introduced the forum’s fourth candidate: Dr. Cynthia Olivo.

Olivo recently began her 15th year as Pasadena City College’s Assistant Superintendent/Vice President of Student Services. She discussed her approaches toward fulfilling students’ basic needs, rebuilding enrollment, and faculty support.

When a program focused on second-year students failed, Olivo shifted gears to instead create guided pathways for students at her institution. “It’s a matter of implementing a mind set of ‘fail fast, fail often.’ If you fail fast, you aren’t investing too many resources in something that may not be aligned with what students need,” said Olivo.

Dr. Michael Odu was the fifth candidate featured at the forum. Odu has spent thirty years working within the community college system, currently serving as Vice President of Instruction at San Diego Miramar College.

The adjunct professor believes that the modern community college system, as built over 100 years ago, is outdated and needs to change to meet the needs of today’s students. Odu spoke to adaptability, transparency, and barriers to student success, bringing up the need to re-imagine the student ecosystem.

“We have to switch from a transactional model to a transformational model. That is the only way you can truly meet people where they are, and take them to where they need to be,” said Odu. His focus lies on knowing who students are, their goals, and providing support systems to take them to where they need to be.

Fulbright engages with moderator

Fulbright discusses his mission for the FC community with moderator Li-Bugg during Thursday's forum. Photo credit: Julianne Le

Dr. Marshall T. Fulbright III brought the forum to a close as the last featured candidate. Fulbright is Grossmont College’s current Vice President of Academic Affairs, but his career in education began over 25 years ago with teaching music at the elementary and high school levels.

Collaboration, inclusion, and collective support were central themes in Fulbright’s answers. Norco College’s former Instructional Dean created an analogy between his musical past and current platform.

Fulbright said, “As a conductor, I made no sound. . . I only enabled 40, 50 other people to be their best as they made the sound and as they created. That has been my MO and my vision for years.”

The presidential selection will come to an end on Saturday, Oct. 22. The NOCCCD Board of Trustees and Chancellor’s decision will be shared with the FC community soon after.

Faculty Senate President Jennifer Combs pointed out the candidates’ “enthusiasm about the opportunity to join us at Fullerton College in our work to understand and meet the current and changing needs of our students.”

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Ryan Billings (He/Him) is an aspiring writer from Westminster, CA.

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He/Him/His. Gerardo is a Journalism Major. Hiking expert. Outdoors enthusiast. Sports lover.