Portland Business Journal selects PCC President as a ‘2018 Executive of the Year’

Story and Photos by Kate Chester and James Hill.

In less than three years since taking the reins of Portland Community College, Mark Mitsui has racked up several notable wins — locally, nationally and internationally — on behalf of the state’s largest institution of higher education.

And now he has one more.

Mitsui was tapped by the Portland Business Journal as one of its “2018 Executives of the Year,” a prestigious award that is highly competitive: Out of a field of nearly 100 candidates, Mitsui was the only honoree representing a public agency or academic institution. In addition to his accomplishments, he was recognized for his commitment to opportunity and equitable student success, meaning that all PCC students are prepared for work and life so that they become successful professionals and engaged citizens. Under Mitsui’s leadership, PCC is creating avenues for students to achieve their goals — especially those who might not otherwise persist — so that they earn an advanced degree or credential, land a better job, provide for their families, and create better futures for their children.

Melanie and Mark Mitsui“I’m excited to have received this honor from the Portland Business Journal,” Mitsui said at last month’s awards ceremony, held at The Sentinel Hotel and attended by nearly 400.

“And I’m humbled to be one of the 12 Executives of the Year, which includes PCC alum and entrepreneur Tyrone Poole of OneApp Oregon. It’s an impressive group.”

For a complete list of the “2018 Executives of the Year,” visit the Portland Business Journal article.

Among Mitsui’s many noteworthy achievements, a handful were standouts to the Portland Business Journal as examples of how PCC is bridging the opportunity gap to build a stronger community thanks to its president’s vision, guidance and support.

For the college to effectively prepare students for employment opportunities and careers in changing work environments, Mitsui has emphasized the need for strong partnerships with local employers. He helped to guide PCC as it created its first-ever Employer Partnership Committee, which developed PCC’s first-ever inventory of employer partners from across the college — and tallied more than 1,600.

PCC nurtures its relationships with employer partners, many of whom advise on curriculum and training, and provide equipment and technology support. For example, the college has a long-time collaboration with Caterpillar and its ThinkBIG Program housed at the Rock Creek Campus. The company pays for students’ tools and offers employment opportunities as they complete their training. The program boasts close to a 100-percent completion rate, and its graduates land well-paying diesel tech jobs.

“This is what we do,” Mitsui said at the awards ceremony. “We help create this bridge between where folks are at, usually first-generation, low-income communities, and we create the bridge to the middle class.”

Mitsui’s professional background is deeply rooted in higher education. He came to PCC in 2016 from Washington D.C. after serving as the deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education under former U.S. President Barack Obama. He is also the former president of North Seattle College and has a long history working with two-year institutions, both as an administrator and as faculty.Mark on stage for Q and A.

One of his biggest wins since joining PCC was passage of the $185 million bond measure in 2017 to improve infrastructure, build a new workforce training center in Northeast Portland, improve disability access, and renovate the Health Technology Building at the Sylvania Campus. The bond measure passed with 56 percent of voters saying “yes.”

Another visible leadership moment at PCC involved the sudden closure of ITT Technical Institute in 2016 soon after Mitsui arrived. The national, for-profit academic institution abruptly closed its doors, leaving thousands of students stranded across the country. Locally, thanks to Mitsui’s leadership and partnership with Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, PCC set up an emergency teach-out that helped to train and support 140 nursing students to graduation.

Mitsui recently celebrated PCC’s partnership in the innovative Fourth and Montgomery Building project in downtown Portland, to include the college’s dental programs and its dental community clinic. Joining PCC within the under-construction facility are Portland State University, Oregon Health & Science University, and the City of Portland — all providing either community or health education services.

Mitsui serves on the boards of Worksystems, Inc, the Portland Business Alliance, Greater Portland, Inc., and the sustainability organization Second Nature. Yet despite such service and his many contributions to PCC, he recognizes the need for continued work to build the bridge to opportunity for students.

At PCC, nearly 14 percent of students are homeless and 40 percent experience housing insecurity, while nearly two-thirds are food insecure. Because of such sobering statistics, it’s important that a community college provides the access and support to lift students out of poverty and into great careers, he said.

This data, coupled with Mitsui’s strategic focus on opportunity and equitable student success, made it natural for PCC to be chosen as the lead institution for the statewide Pathways to Opportunity project. With support from the Oregon President’s Council and the HECC’s Office of Community College and Workforce Development, PTO is designed to increase access to resources and services that better support students facing financial barriers to attending and completing college. One method is to identify strategies to braid federal, state and local funding at institutions, to help students in need.

With the legislative session now in full swing, Mitsui and the rest of the state’s community colleges are advocating for a 2019-21 biennium budget of $787 million that includes $140 million for career-technical programs and student support services. Anything lower than this level will result in cuts to programs and a rise in tuition.

“Our students are incredibly price sensitive,” Mitsui said. “It’s really hard to pull yourself up. State funding for community colleges is literally a matter of life and death for some of our students. It’s a difference between having a future and not having a future.

“The $787 million budget would keep tuition low but also double the number of CTE graduates we have across the state,” he continued. “These (programs) are in high-wage and high-demand fields for folks who would really love, and need, those jobs.”