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Life Lessons: Alice Jacobson and A Passion to Serve
Photos and Story by James Hill
by James HillFrom New York to Portland, Alice Jacobson’s path was never planned. But one ingredient to her lifelong success was always there – passion. Ask anyone who has ever worked with her. That passion has led to self-confidence and less worry about her future.So, her advice to people is simple."That it’s going to be alright and something will emerge," said the retired president of Sylvania Campus. "So, chill."And things have worked out for Jacobson. She began the job of running PCC’s largest campus, Sylvania, in 1991, a campus of 24,000 students and a budget of $29 million. Before becoming one of three executive deans at PCC, she was the vice president for Planning and Development for the college between 1988-91 where she led the district planning process.Jacobson has been involved with numerous community boards, committees, and professional development organizations throughout her career. In December, the Far Southwest Neighborhood Association paid tribute to her commitment to the community. She has been integral to the development of events such as Art Beat, the Winter Native American Powwow, Multicultural Center, Teaching Learning Center and the raising of the 30-foot totem pole, to name a few.But she is most proud of the students and staff at the college."What’s impressed me is the perseverance of our students despite often seemingly insurmountable odds," Jacobson said. "The dedication and hard work and the student-centered philosophy of our faculty and staff have impressed me as well and we have a wonderful resource here in our facilities."Jacobson is often full of humor and wit. She is the main attraction for staff and faculty at the yearly PCC Inservice where she often raises the crowd to laughter with funny proverbs like "Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is a different story," and "If hard work pays off in the future, laziness pays off now."Jacobson retired from PCC in December 2003 and left her mark in many ways. Sue Parks-Hilden, the college’s retiring theater arts instructor, has fond memories of Alice."She has been a class act all the way," Parks-Hilden said. "She was instrumental in planning for the new theater at Sylvania and we served on many committees together about the building and the opening. Alice is a lover of the arts and displays that by showing up at all of the theater department performances. She also came to any shows I was personally in and brought a group with her."Jacobson even had a role in the PCC production of "Our Town." As much fun as it was, she looks back with mixed emotions. "I was teasing Sue to put me in one of her plays. Then she did and I played an audience member who yells something at an actor on stage. I yelled my line and got it wrong."But it’s Jacobson’s support that everyone will remember."I can’t tell you enough the encouragement and support Alice has given me has meant," said Jen Baldwin, who was student body president of the Sylvania Campus in 2002-03 and is now a student at Portland State University. "But I’m not the only one she helped, as she has done the same thing for a number of students."Jacobson was born in New York and grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She received bachelor’s degree in English from the Western College for Women in Ohio and a master’s and doctorate in adult education administration from Columbia University all the while working part-time.Her first job was working as a GED instructor for the Bronx Community College in New York during which she worked with a variety of anti-poverty programs. Later, Jacobson served as the chair of the English department and was the assistant to the president at Malcolm-King College in Harlem.Following a stint as vice president at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, Jacobson made the radical move to Oregon to teach at Portland State University. Soon after, she became executive dean of the Sylvania Campus.She was always confident she’d land on her feet and even her entrance into the PCC scene was unconventional."I was teaching a graduate class at PSU and one of my students was a PCC board member who insisted I come meet the PCC president (Dan Moriarty)," Jacobson recalled.Always active, she has made a point of being involved. Jacobson was awarded the American Association of Women in Community Colleges President of the Year distinction in 2001. "I’ve really appreciated the freedom my job has given me to be involved on and off the campus," Jacobson said. "I didn’t have that in other jobs. It has allowed me to explore more rewarding opportunities in conjunction with my job. I get a great satisfaction. The mission is to help people, address the conditions, lives of clients and students and organizations."What’s next in retirement for Jacobson? Like everything else, no matter what, she’ll be alright.Alice JacobsonPCC’s recently retired Sylvania Campus President Alice Jacobson was a key figure in guiding the planning of the Library and Performing Arts Center, which opened in 1994 and quickly became cornerstones to the campus. She has also led the development of several other campus buildings and the remodeling of laboratories.In 2001, Jacobson was awarded the American Association of Women in Community Colleges President of the Year. She is a commissioner with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and chairs the board at the National Institute for Leadership and Development, which is dedicated to increasing women in leadership roles in community colleges. Locally, she volunteers at Neighborhood House, a southwest Portland social services agency, and serves on the board of the Equity Foundation of Oregon.Jacobson enjoys playing bridge, her favorite film is, "The Prime of Miss Jean Brody," and her favorite travel destination so far is Tikal, Guatemala.Opsis Architecture is leading a campaign to create an endowment fund honoring Jacobson’s contributions to PCC. For more information or to make a pledge to the Alice Jacobson Excellence Fund, contact the PCC Foundation at 503-977-4382.