Leading with intention

A Q&A with Iesha Valencia, CPTC’s new Associate Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

by Jean Borst

Valencia begins her new role at CPTC January 17, 2022. This is the first of a two-part series to introduce her to our College community. Watch for a profile of her on Tuesday, January 18.

What excites you most about your new position at CPTC?

There are many things I’m excited about. First, I’m fortunate to come into a position where so much robust assessment has already happened. That work will enable me to have a concrete and direct impact at the college. I look forward to centering on that and helping to transform the lived experiences of students who are traditionally excluded.

I’m especially excited about the opening of the MOSAIC (Student Access, Inclusion and Community) Center and its development as an intentional physical space where students can gather and connect. When I visited the campus for my interview, I could already envision how students would feel walking through that door. I hope we can create multiple spaces like it throughout the campus.

Of course, I’m also eager to get to know the students. After all, they are the foundation of what we’ll build.

Tell me more about your vision for the MOSAIC Center.

While the purpose of the MOSAIC Center is to serve the unique needs of students from diverse, racial, ethnic and gender backgrounds, my approach to doing that will be intersectional. It’s very important that we are intentional about that as a foundational priority. It will be the basis of the center’s programming, professional development, artwork and staff recruitment.

I want to create a space where students do not feel they have to leave part of themselves or their identities at the door. For example, LGBTQIA+ students of color should feel intentionally welcomed in this space. If and when they don’t, I want them to help us co-create what inclusion feels like.

Equity and inclusion have been your life’s work. Was there an “aha” moment that started your journey?

This work is a part of who I am. Which was a partly a choice, partly a calling and partly a response to the needs of my community.

I realized the power of inclusion at a very young age. In kindergarten, I noticed a classmate who was being ignored and I didn’t understand why. All I knew that he was Mexican, and I was Mexican, but I didn’t know why no one played with him at recess. So, I did what we all do at age 5. I went home and asked my mom. She encouraged me to talk to him. So, I did. I invited him to play with my friends and we all became friends. I don’t know if he remembers me, but I will never forget him. He taught me a life lesson. We must notice dis-belonging and have intentional strategies to arrive at a sense of belonging.

It’s why I do this work. I believe everyone deserves dignity and respect in an environment created for them to thrive.

What do you consider the most important priorities in working to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community at Clover Park Technical College?

It all starts with creating partnerships with students, faculty, staff and the community. We are all one big team holistically supporting our students, with a range of experiences and identities. It’s crucial for each one of us to recognize our starting point for building awareness, knowledge, skills and action before we zero in on equitable student outcomes.

I’ll meet people where they are, create learning opportunities to grow beyond that point, and develop systems of encouragement and accountability for continuous improvement and growth. Everyone has the capacity to be change agents.

Then there are the big-picture priorities. Through training and development, I’ll work to find ways to integrate EDI into day-to-day practices. Our team will also address the issue of dis-belonging and make an authentic and active effort to ensure everyone has a place here. Of course, we’ll work to close gaps in graduation rates, especially among our African American, Native American and Hispanic students.

Where do you see EDI influencing higher education now and in the future?

There is so much resistance to change, even good change. And with EDI, you must have change.

When looking at EDI from a technical college standpoint, there’s a tremendous responsibility to develop and prepare our future workforce. This moment of time we’re in right now is going to elevate the importance of EDI as a foundation skill set rather than an add-on like it is now. My goal is to integrate and normalize that. But it’s going to be a journey to get there.

If we reflect on last couple years, the murder of George Floyd changed a lot of things for us. It was a defining moment in the country and in higher ed. Collectively, we said, ‘Enough is enough.”

In higher ed, we have been holding a lot of data and facts about lived experiences, particularly those of our students of color. Now is the time to do something about that. If the journey is a book, I see this as a chapter worth devoting a lot of time and attention to.

Is there a mantra you live by?

“Take care of your people.” It’s something I’ve embraced throughout most of my professional life. I’ll bring that with me to Clover Park Technical College as I get to know and build my team. I hope that includes student leaders and other professional staff members down road.

I want to make sure people see me as an approachable person and thought leader. I want us to problem solve together on these challenging efforts.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love spending time with my family. And my partner and I have a puppy, so a lot of things revolve around his life.

I’ve also been known to binge watch an entire TV series when I have little pockets of time. Those are rare between work and completing my doctoral degree.

I also enjoy making things with my hands and hope to pick up a new hobby soon. I look forward to being around all the hands-on learning at CPTC and hope to take a class when my time isn’t so limited.