PCC President Mark Mitsui and Executive Vice President Sylvia Kelley announce plans to retire
Photos and Story by Kate Chester
Portland Community College, Oregon’s largest post-secondary institution serving more than 60,000 students, will lose its number one and number two leaders to retirement over the next several months.
Mark Mitsui, who has served as PCC’s President since 2016, will retire in June 2022 at the conclusion of the 2021-2022 academic year. Meanwhile, Sylvia Kelley, PCC’s Executive Vice President since August 2014, will retire in December 2021.
Mitsui and Kelley announced their decisions at the quarterly all-college management meeting on April 16, after formally sharing the news the previous evening with the college’s elected Board of Directors.
“We’re fortunate, and so grateful, to have had President Mitsui and Executive Vice President Kelley at the helm during a time of significant growth and change at the college, in our immediate community, and in our nation,” said Mohamed Alyajouri, chair of PCC’s Board of Directors. “Their contributions, talent, leadership and dedication have created a long-term vision and road map for PCC, one that ensures opportunity and equitable success for all of our students.”
PCC’s Board of Directors will lead the hiring process for the college’s next president. The yearlong undertaking will include selecting a search firm, establishing a detailed timeline, and eliciting participation and input from college employees and external community members. The goal is to announce PCC’s next president in April 2022.
Simultaneously, an internal search at the college will take place to determine an interim executive vice president. Once hired, PCC’s new president will conduct a national search to hire the next permanent executive vice president.
Mitsui came to PCC in 2016 from Washington, DC, having served in the Obama Administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges within the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education in the US Department of Education.
PCC’s new president was quick to share a deeply rooted, genuine commitment to the values of opportunity and equitable student success soon after arriving at the college. Mitsui’s vision served as the foundation of his work plan, whereby the college’s policies, practices, and behaviors were assessed and reformed to improve the experience and outcomes for the diverse student body it serves.
By 2017 the college had joined Achieving the Dream, a comprehensive national movement of community colleges enabling data and best practices to be shared so that students reach their goals. PCC soon tailored its own version of ATD — YESS, or Yes to Equitable Student Success — as the roadmap to dismantle barriers and build inclusive systems of education and support. The goal is for students to graduate at a consistently increasing rate, and that disparities in student outcomes are reduced and eventually eliminated. PCC’s accomplishments so far include the implementation of a new advising process, the creation of college-wide academic/career pathways, and a major college-wide reorganization to advance equitable student success.
During his tenure, Mitsui championed Pathways to Opportunity, a statewide partnership made up of all 17 Oregon community colleges and Oregon’s Department of Human Services. Its aim is to close opportunity gaps and increase economic mobility by expanding federal, state, and local resources available to low-income students so that more people can attend and complete college.
PCC’s advanced manufacturing training center, a long-awaited project as part of the Oregon Manufacturing and Innovation Center, is readying itself to open in Scappoose, Ore. thanks to Mitsui, in partnership with Kelley and the college’s Planning & Capital Construction division. The center will foster economic mobility and growth in Columbia County, part of PCC’s five-county service region.
Mitsui’s leadership has contributed to PCC earning a number of national and international accolades for its sustainability efforts. In 2019, PCC was named the number one community college in the country by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. That same year, the national climate action organization Second Nature honored PCC with its “Marks of Distinction” to recognize the college’s performance, participation and goal setting to reduce harmful emissions. In 2017, PCC earned the Climate Leadership Award from Second Nature, and participated in the United Nations Climate Conferences as a member of the “We Are Still In” coalition in Bonn, Germany (in 2017) and Madrid, Spain (in 2019). Earlier this month, Mitsui co-signed Second Nature’s higher education letter to President Biden in support of a strong 2030 U.S. climate goal.
For his comprehensive work, as well as his influence and partnership within the business community, Mitsui received Executive of the Year honors from the Portland Business Journal in 2018.
During his time at PCC Mitsui has been involved in several organizations and boards, among these including the American Council on Education; the Task Force on Higher Education and Opportunity; the National Skills Coalition Manufacturing Industry Recovery panel; as a commissioner on the regional accreditation commission, Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities, as well as serving on its Equity Task Force; on the Executive Council and as the treasurer of the Oregon Community College Association; as a member of the leadership circle for Aspen Institute’s Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative; Phi Theta Kappa President’s Advisory Committee; Gov. Kate Brown’s Workforce and Talent Development Board, co-chairing the Artificial Intelligence Task Force and the Equitable Prosperity Task Force, as well as serving on its Executive Council; Portland Business Alliance; as chair of the National Asian Pacific Islander Council; and as part of the We Are Still In Leadership Circle and Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Committee.
Kelley came to PCC in 2014 from Southern Oregon University, where she had been the Vice President for Development and the Executive Director of the Foundation for seven years after serving in a similar role at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Shortly after arriving at PCC, Kelley was tapped as the college’s interim President, a position she held for about a year and a half during the search for Mitsui.
As PCC’s Executive Vice President, Kelley has had high level direction of many of the college’s operational service lines including Human Resources; Grants; Planning & Capital Construction; and College Advancement, which includes Marketing and Communications, Public Relations and Community Engagement, and the PCC Foundation. Additionally, Kelley oversees all legal counsel coordination on behalf of the college.
In November 2020, the elected Board of Directors approved the college’s new five-year strategic plan, a massive undertaking led by Kelley for more than a year amidst a global pandemic, remote operations, racial unrest locally and nationally, and regional wildfires. Despite such obstacles, Kelley saw the project through to completion. The result is a comprehensive plan consisting of four major thematic areas of focus, supported by a number of initiatives.
“I was impressed by the thoroughness and depth of the strategic plan, and how well it complements President Mitsui’s commitment to opportunity and equitable student success,” said Tiffani Penson, vice chair of PCC’s Board of Directors. “Executive Vice President Kelley thinks holistically and connects the dots, for synergy, between the college’s many initiatives.”
Thanks to Kelley’s leadership and guidance, the PCC Foundation just completed its first ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. The effort has raised nearly $47 million to support students on their path to prosperity, with scholarships and other resources.
Together, Kelley and Mitsui positioned the college to successfully pass the 2017 PCC capital bond campaign thanks to voter support. In addition to replacing outdated technology and equipment, this bond measure has funded the construction of PCC’s new Portland Metropolitan Workforce Training Center, which houses offices of the Department of Human Services and other regional and community workforce development entities. The facility also will offer affordable housing thanks to a partnership with Home Forward.
In Thursday’s meeting with the Board of Directors, Kelley shared that “PCC is a resource for and of the community, and it has been an honor for me personally to be part of this college, which serves students and the community in deeply meaningful, life-changing ways.”
Mitsui offered a metaphor for his time at PCC.
“We have a lot of bridges in PCC’s service area, and I’ve come to think of PCC as one of them. PCC is a bridge to opportunity, a bridge to a better life for countless members of our communities regardless of what zip code a student is born in. Nearly a quarter of all students, about 28,000, a year, who face equity barriers in Oregon’s higher education system, pursue upward mobility through PCC.
“It has been a true privilege and honor to serve as the president of PCC, a college with a heart for justice, dedicated to student success and learning, and willing to constantly improve itself to meet the future, today.”