Vice presidential candidate makes her pitch to campus
By Izzy Anderson - Staff Reporter
To Dr. Mahalaxmi Gita Bangera, Highline's vice president of academic affairs would be a perfect fit.
Dr. Bangera had a chance to meet students, staff and faculty at a forum Tuesday, and talked about why hiring her on would be beneficial, for herself and for Highline.
After her speech, an open Q&A discussion took place as well.
More than 100 students, staff and faculty attended. Every seat was taken, and dozens of people were lined up against the walls.
Dr. Jeff Wagnitz is the current vice president of academic affairs, a position he has been in for a decade. In this time, Dr. Wagnitz also served as interim president during the search for Highline's president last year.
Once a new vice president is selected, Dr. Wagnitz will retire from full-time positions at Highline.
Dr. Bangera is currently the Dean of the Research, Innovation, Service and Experiential Learning Institute at Bellevue College.
She earned her bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Bombay, another master's degree in Biological Science from Carnegie-Mellon University, and worked for a doctorate from Washington State University.
She has been involved in higher education and private industry for more than two decades. Dr. Bangera has also spent time as an acting co-president and as an interim vice president.
Right off the bat, Dr. Bangera made it clear that she looked to earn trust, not be given it.
"If I am lucky enough to be in this position, I do know I have to come in and earn your trust," she said. "I [also] know … leadership is not a 9-to-5 job."
One major point she brought up regarding improvements to campus, was the need to encourage partnership between programs, to better the college and bounce ideas back and forth.
"I think the collaboration between academic affairs and student affairs to really support the whole student, is vital," Dr. Bangera said.
And regarding starting and continuing new projects, Dr. Bangera explained how she is well-equipped for the task.
She brought up what she referred to as the firefly affect.
"Innovation, innovation, innovation, then it disappears," she said.
Dr. Bangera said that she knows how to start, see through, and successfully finish projects, that many times would otherwise fall to the wayside.
"I have experience doing that," she said.
Part of this is by making sure all objectives of the project are covered, everyone has a voice on said project, and a clear agenda is present. "Every time we do a project, you [need to] ask 'should we build this?', 'why are we doing this?'," Dr. Bangera said. "We need to say who's at the table, who's not at the table."
And while Highline is doing a good job at this, it's important to always look for improvement, she said.
"You're already doing this in a great way, how can we take it up to the next level?" She asked.
Several questions were asked during the open forum portion, such as how the institution could help evening students get their Associate's degree in 2 years, what supporting the ABE/GED/ESL program better could look like, and what could be done about staff and faculty often not being paid a reasonable amount.
"I lost one of my administration people to Fred Meyers, I think it's a darn shame that Fred Meyers can pay more than I can when she is doing great work," said one faculty member.
After this statement, the room applauded.
Dr. Bangera explained how not being able to afford to pay great workers more is an unfortunate and ongoing problem, that often can't be fixed without the support from Legislature and other higher ups.
For now, the best thing to do would be relocating funds to try and place them where they matter most, she said.
"We have to look at how we can allocate resources … how do we use our resources to give the best impact," she said.
When asked by another faculty member why she chose to try for a Highline position instead of any other colleges, Dr. Bangera said that she felt like she belonged here.
"I've been visiting Highline for about a year and … I felt a sort of coming home feeling in this institution," she said. "Just seeing how things function here, I feel like this place is where I can do the next bit of work in my career."
Another topic brought up, was how she would go about helping encourage students towards their academic or career goals.
"One thing in my experience that works to keep students engaged … is actually connecting the students to the career goal right from day one," Dr. Bangera.
To do this, institutions need to bring help to the students, not make the student sought out guidance, she said.
"We have to bring it to the student, we cannot tell the student to go find it," Dr. Bangera said.
If given the position, Dr. Bangera made clear that she would approach the position with the knowledge that she won't always get everything right.
"One thing I can tell you for sure, is I will make mistakes," she said. "I will [also] stand up and own up to it, and ask you for help to move forward."
It's important to approach a position with that understanding, she said.
Overall, Dr. Bangera is looking forward to the possibility of bringing everything she has to the table.
"I would love to be the vice president of academic affairs," she said. "To work with all of you, to make that happen."