Community college life resumes


The Mirror

Teaching at Green River Community College completes a circle for Mark Blaisdell.

A full-time instructor for 12 years at the college in Auburn, Blaisdell is also an alumnus of the school.

On his way to collecting a bachelor's degree in economics and an MBA, Blaisdell took classes at Green River in the late 1970s. He transferred to the University of Washington for his undergraduate degree and was accepted at Pacific Lutheran University for his master's.

He went to a job at Boeing, working in finance and operations. But teaching was his interest and passion, he said, and doing it at a community college was his choice and goal. It was while taking classes at Green River that the theories and practice of economics "clicked" for the alumnus of Thomas Jefferson High School.

He appreciated the discipline and determination of the community college students, Blaisdell said. He still does. It was one of the reasons he worked for his master's degree.

He started moonlighting –– literally, for his first classes were at night –– as a part-time instructor at Green River while working for Boeing.

"That's how most community college instructors get started," he said of his first teaching experience.

After five years as a part-time faculty member, he was asked to replace his mentor, an instructor with 35 years of classroom experience. He's fortunate to have the position, Blaisdell said, because there are few teaching openings at community colleges.

Depending on the discipline and number of courses being taught, full-time faculty positions can be very limited and have low turnover, said John Ramsey, a spokesman for Green River.

Blaisdell is chairman of the economics department and teaches around 140 students a quarter. A four-year university could have been his next step, but Blaisdell was more interested in teaching students and not having to balance the classroom with research and publishing –– two aspects at four-year institutions that determine whether a faculty member gets tenure.

Tenure at Green River is a three-year process, where the faculty member's teaching schedule and work at the college are factors.

When he first arrived many, of his students were from the Middle East, either as international students or recent immigrants to the United States, Blaisdell said. The world's political and economic climate has changed, and most of Blaisdell's students now hail from Asia, particularly Indonesia, China (including Hong Kong) and Japan.

He teaches introductory economics courses and second-year micro and macro economics. The classes put him in contact with two growing populations on campus –– high school students in the Running Start program and older students returning for more education because of a changed or lost job.

Running Start is aimed at college-bound students who want to take some of their basic higher-education courses while in high school. Blaisdell estimates about 20 percent of his students are high schoolers.

Financially, the program makes a sense for students and their families because the costs are covered by their school districts. Some students shave as much as two years off their time at universities by going to community college classes and high school simultaneously. Most of them are very focused and some are better prepared than freshmen at the college, Blaisdell said, but a few do fall prey to the same issue many young college students experience when they are out of the nest and their parents' eyesight for the first time: Handling freedom responsibly.

Older students typically take Blaisdell's introductory classes. Many are getting additional training for their professions or are changing careers. They don't waste time because they have a limited window to complete their new education before their private or public benefactors stop paying.

Internet-based courses are also growing. Blaisdell has a few classes that meet on the Web, and he sends out and receives assignments from students across the country.

"That's just going to keep growing, I think," he said.

While there are critics of the quality of distance education and Internet courses, Blaisdell pointed out his on-line courses have students participate in discussions on the class message board as part of their grade. They can't hide like some would in a traditional classroom, he said.


The Mirror

Highline Community College has a new program to get more high school students attending the institution earlier.

The college started the fall quarter on Sept. 20.

A three-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has allowed the college to create the Puget Sound Early College program.

The program is for high school juniors interested in technology and its impact on communities. They study and learn using the cohort model where students remain together but see different teachers. The program lasts three years and the high school students have their associate's degree when they graduate. There are 50 students enrolled this year in the program that is at the college's Federal Way center on 1st Way South near South. 333 Street.

The expectation is for that number to grow to around 90 students next fall, said Lisa Skari, Highline's executive director of institutional advancement.

"It's a good use of the taxpayers' dollars," Skari said. State funds also contribute to the program by way of the school districts passing some of the money used to educate the students to the community college.

Enrollment a week before fall quarter opening was a little lower than expected, but that could change once classes start, Skari said. Summer quarter began with enrollment below what was predicted, but by the first week it was at the level anticipated, she said.

Also new to the community college is the Early Childhood Center. Well, the building is new as are some of its services. The old building was recently torn down after several decades of use. The new building will have evening care for students attending night classes, and parents with children under 16 months can now bring them. Before the program could only care for children 16 months and older.

Two new academic programs are coming online and out of the growing demand for computer-savvy graduates. A data forensics program will open within the computer technology department at the college. Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, Highline is working in conjunction with Seattle University and the University of Washington.

A project management course is also debuting this year as more companies and organizations hire outside teams to supervise and develop specific events or products, Skari said.

Parking is an issue at the campus like many others. When the college was told the Midway Theater would close access to its parking lot there was concern about where students and faculty would tie up their cars for the day. Skari said the college learned over the summer the parking lot will remain open through the fall quarter. The timing is good because the university expects to have some new parking available at that time.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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