Walla Walla Community College

Back at the Coffee Perk because I’m a creature of habit. I’m all checked out of the house, and it was a wonderful stay! On to Seattle in a few. So, more about yesterday. After rising and getting in a few hours of writing, I drove to Walla Walla Community College for a morning meeting with Tim Donahue. It’s hard, frankly, to express how awesome my visit was.

Yes, a Wine Library.

Yes, a Wine Library.

First, Tim is an incredible human being. Within five minutes, I knew this. He was so generous with his time, kind with his attention and care, and candid with his words. He is the current Director of the Center and was prominently featured in this mini-documentary, which is basically the entire reason I am here.

After talking about all manners of things (career path, teaching, students), we toured College Cellars and then made our way our to the vineyards in a massive, bumpy, wonderful red truck. I loved it.

It was amazing to see everything in action, and the being here really brought the video to life. Loved hearing about the care and attention each student within the program receives–as well as the pragmatic and student-centered approaches to teaching. The very first thing the students do is make wine. Practice first, (some) theory later. Wine making seems romantic, whimsical, and FUN. However, not (aways) so. Making wine right away gives students the experience they need to make a sound decision–is this for me? Can I stand the work, the lack of sleep, the cold, the wet? Moreover, the internship experience happens quite early on as well. Tim shared that students often “land” (paid) assistantships all over the world. Amazing. The world needs wine makers! Skillful ones. With all of his experience in the business, he knows. And he knows people, which is a huge asset to the students. [In fact, he’s working on a plan to send me to New Zealand right now. Okay, I’m kidding. Maybe.]

Tim plus grapes.

Tim plus grapes.

So, we’re at the vineyard, which is super close to the incubator. I tell Tim about missing J&J Vintners. He’s like, no worries, I can call Jeremy of you want. Um. Sure?(!). We’re looking at grapes. I am learning about grapes. I eat a grape. Then, Jeremy DRIVES BY! What?!?!? So, Tim being Tim flags him down, and Jeremy turns his big truck around to come visit with us for a few. It was amazing!

Jeremy, like Tim, is the nicest. We had a good time chatting, and it was awesome to witness the rapport between these two–teacher and student, mentor and mentee, and now, friends and colleagues. There’s something about the people here that draws you toward them. A sense of being acknowledged, a kindness, I am not entirely sure. But being here felt good.

Me. Jeremy. Truck.

Me. Jeremy. Truck.

Once we returned, I had the chance to get myself some swag and a bottle of wine (thank you, Tim!)–Scholarship White. We spent about two hours together in total, and I loved every second of it. This place deserves the recognition it has received. The good these folks do for the students, the community, and community colleges is real and palpable.

My next visit was with Wendy Samitore, Vice President of Student Services at the college. She was warm and lovely and candid and giving and curious and smart. I loved hearing about her career path, which included teaching high school English, adjuncting at the college, and working with the TRIO program at the college. We talked about teaching, what it means to believe in students, and how working at a community college can feel, sometimes, like culture shock, depending on a person’s background. She told me about the simple yet brilliant initiatives they’ve launched as well as the ways in which they’ve “tested out” hunches and discovered things about their students, thereby serving them better and more purposefully. Completion does matter, and steps can be taken to advance students’ completion.

Embodied.

Embodied.

Wendy and I visited together for about an hour and a half, and she plans to retire within months. It was wonderful to listen to the new ways in which she’ll continue making herself, inspiring. We discussed succession planning, institutional memory, and new leadership. She’s been at the college for over 25 years. She’s lived the college–lived Walla Walla. This was evident in our discussions abut the video. It occurred to me that, in some ways, institutional memory can be inhibiting. I suppose it’s in what we choose to do with that memory, however. Anyway.

After hitting up the bookstore (actually, I did that prior to meeting with Wendy), I ventured to the coffee shop (internet) and then drove back to the house.

About aolatz

Associate Professor of Higher Education and Community College Leadership at Ball State University

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