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New face at the helm Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Oct 22 2011 12:00 PM

Newly elected superintendent/president of Southwestern College, Dr. Melinda Nish was all smiles last Wednesday when the governing board announced her victory.

"I was very pleased and extremely touched and grateful," Nish said. "This is the right job and the right place."

At 50, Nish said she is excited to celebrate the college's half-century anniversary along with her own and hopes to be around for at lease a decade.

"I'd like to thank the college for the good work they've been doing and Denise Whittaker for doing an excellent job," Nish said. "I'm excited to come on board and help build the team."

For the most part, Nish grew up in Utah where she attended the University of Utah and received her master's in economics.

Nish said she's been interested in education as long as she can remember.

In fact, her first paying job was one she created herself as a summer school teacher for kids in the neighborhood at just 13 years old.

Nish finished her doctorate in May.

"Furthering your education is always worthwhile no matter where you're at in your life," she said.

Nish said that California is one of the most exciting education systems to work in.

"We (California) educate far more people than any larger higher education segment, including K12, CSUs and UCs," she said.

Nish said the fact that Southwestern is so close to the border presents opportunities for its students and programs.

"South County is a huge and special area," she said. "The services provided are really needed and valued by the community."

However, Nish also said the college needs sustainability.

"I like a challenge and there are going to be challenges," she said. "But all the challenges are associated with opportunities."

Nish said getting the college's accreditation back showed the community can pull together and work as a team.

"It shows me that they can accomplish big goals and do it quickly," she said. "But we've got to move away from the idea that accreditation is a product that we produce periodically. It needs to be integrated into the very fabric of the institution."

Nish's major goals for the college include creating sustainable processes and continuing the progression of moving forward.

Southwestern College governing board president Tim Nader said he believes Nish is committed to the concept of shared governance, which is important in moving the college forward.

"We've come through a very difficult period of unfortunate antagonism between administration and faculty and a probationary status of accreditation," Nader said.

The college was put on probation in August 2009 when an inspection team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges found it did not meet certification standards.

Current interim superintendent/president Denise Whittaker was selected Jan. 19 after former superintendent/president Raj Chopra resigned in November. She was charged with getting the school's accreditation off probation, which she accomplished, and was paid $17,000 a month.

Southwestern's governing board began the process of hiring a new superintendent/president in June. Following a nationwide search that generated 34 applications, an 18-member committee of college students, faculty, administrators and community members narrowed the pool to five and three finalists emerged.

The committee conducted site visits to the campuses of finalists last month.

Nish's contract is expected to be written and approved by the board next week.

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