Jacelyn Keys will serve as the new director of Kodiak College, according to an announcement made by University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen. Keys will come to Kodiak from the Blue Mountain Community College in Oregon, where she currently serves as the director of the Hermiston Center.
According to a letter from Sandeen, Keys “has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and has focused on creating a dynamic, vibrant, inclusive, students-first learning environment.”
In an interview with the Kodiak Daily Mirror, Keys said she initially focused her job search on the East Coast, and had no intention of moving to Alaska. But after meeting the search committee during the interview process, which was conducted virtually, she was drawn to the Kodiak community.
“I just fell in love with the community that I met, the staff and the faculty. It’s exciting to build something with these folks that are so dedicated to the community,” she said.
Kodiak College met all six criteria she had set for herself in her job search: a challenge in a new location; an institution rooted in service to the community; a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion; work with traditionally underrepresented populations; work near a military base; and an opportunity to integrate into the community.
“As I researched Kodiak, I was like, wow, that ticks all of the boxes,” Keys said. “I was still holding back, until I met the search committee.”
The committee was chaired by Prince William Sound College Director Dan O’Connor and consisted of Kodiak residents and university affiliates. Keys described committee members as forthright, blunt, funny, warm and honest.
“I was sold,” she said.
Keys brings 20 years of higher education experience to Kodiak. Of those, she spent 11 years managing sites, centers and programs. She has also taught college and university courses for 13 years.
She holds two master's degrees — a degree in communications and organizational leadership from Gonzaga University, and a degree in college student services administration from Oregon State University.
Keys said she is humbled by the opportunity to become a part of the Kodiak community.
“This is a very special place. It’s not just working at a college — people are welcoming me into the community. I take that very seriously,” she said.
In her new role, she hopes to make diversity, equity and inclusion “part of how we work and live every day.”
“As a white woman, I have an exceptional amount of privilege. I think it is incumbent upon us to dismantle the systems that put that in place,” she said.
She said it’s also important to her to provide education opportunities to members of the military. Her brother, uncle and grandfather all had careers in the Army, and she says they encountered difficulties transitioning to work in civilian life.
“The more credentialing and academic background we can give people while they are in the military, the easier transition they can have to higher paying jobs,” she said. “I really want to work with folks near a military base so we can get them working on whatever provides them the best academic background as they transition out of the military career.”
Keys’ hiring announcement comes just one year after the university announced it had hired Jessica Paugh as the new college director. But Paugh resigned from the role before arriving in Kodiak, citing the immense difficulties she foresaw in response to harsh budget cuts to the Alaska public university system.
The university sustained a $25 million budget cut in the current fiscal year, and faces an additional $45 million budget cut in the upcoming fiscal year, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy threatened even harsher budget cuts last summer. According to an April estimate, the university will likely see an additional $35 million to $45 million revenue loss during the next two fiscal years due to COVID-19.
Among the steps taken by the university to meet the challenges posed by the financial hardship is furloughing top administrators in the upcoming fiscal year for a period of eight to 10 days. The director of Kodiak College is among the positions impacted by the temporary furlough.
Keys said she is aware of the University of Alaska budget constraints, and hopes to mobilize Kodiak College to respond to a changing economic reality.
“Right now, budgets are tight all over,” she said. “One of the things that higher education in general is not good at is being nimble. That’s not one of our strong suits. We need to be very nimble and very responsive to workforce training.”
With COVID-19 expected to continue to shape the economy for months to come, she said the college will have to adapt to support its students and the surrounding community.
“We are going to have to be very responsive to economic structures and putting people back to work in new environments that we can’t even imagine right now,” she said. “We need to respond quickly to the economic opportunities that present themselves.”
Keys will replace interim director Betty Walters, who has served as interim director for two years. Walters took over when Alan Fugleberg retired after four years in the position.
Keys’ first day on the job will be in August. She hopes to arrive in Kodiak with her dog sooner to settle in, but coronavirus-related travel restrictions have made the move more challenging. With the Canadian border still closed, she expects to ship her belongings and arrive in Kodiak by plane.
Walters will remain in the position until Keys arrives. “I am not running out the door,” Walters said.