Q&A With New President Dr. Lane

Last week, Seattle Colleges Chancellor Dr. Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap selected Dr. Bradley Lane for the permanent president role at Seattle Central College. Previously, Dr. Lane was serving in an interim capacity for the last two years. To celebrate the announcement, we're featuring 12 questions for Seattle Central's 12th president. 

Q: Congratulations on your recent selection as permanent president of Seattle Central! How does the official title feel after serving as interim president for the last two years? And what were your roles prior to president?

A: It feels unreal. I am really excited and, in many ways, also relieved I get to stay at a college I love and a place I believe in. I think it will remain to be seen how different it feels removing the “interim” title, but just knowing that I get to stick around means everything to me.

I’ve been with the Seattle Colleges now for 15 years. I started as a faculty member in English, humanities, and gender and women's studies at North Seattle College, and then I moved to Central, in 2012 as an Interim Dean for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. I was an Executive Dean, was the Vice President for Instruction, and then an Executive Vice President for Instruction, Finance, and Planning. I went to California for a few years during the pandemic but got coaxed back and have had no regrets about my decision to come back. It really felt like coming home and it's gratifying to get to stay in this role for a long time to come.

Q: What are your biggest takeaways from your first two years on the job as president?

A: On the one hand, two years has felt like a blink of an eye but looking back on how much we’ve been able to do, it feels like the college is in a different place than a couple of years ago. All the great work the college has done around sustaining its budget and programs, reconnecting to the community, growing enrollment, and bringing in lots of new great faculty and staff feels enormously gratifying, and you get the sense that we're just beginning this work. I think the lesson is that often you work for years at something and it can still feel like not that much time. It’s amazing what a whole team of people can do together in a short period.

Q: What is your favorite part of working at Seattle Central and being a part of this community?

A: Every college has its own unique culture, but I think Central is a special place. I love the commitment to social justice that is just infused here. I love the legacy that this college has in the history of the city. I love that we're on a block where education has been happening basically since the city of Seattle started. And that's in the bones of this place, as the first high school, as the first technical college, as the first community college. I feel so much pride in getting to represent a place that has a history and legacy but is also always trying to be progressive and trying to push forward — that’s what makes it feel special. The students that we draw at Central are often coming from far away because what is here is so special. That same thing that draws students here has kept me coming back and made me unable to stay away. There's something in the bones of the place that feels distinctive, and you can't help but want to stick around.

Q: As interim president, you made some new connections within the Capitol Hill community and brought them to campus for a jambalaya dinner. Tell us more!

A: As interim president, one of my goals was to re-engage and reconnect with the community, particularly as the city was opening up after the pandemic. I was invited to go to Copenhagen with a group from the neighborhood for a master class that was studying how to make neighborhoods more livable, more sustainable and affordable, better equipped to keep pedestrians safe, and fully activated. That trip was a profoundly informative, influential opportunity and I formed great relationships with business leaders and institutional leaders who work for the city.

One night in Copenhagen, a group of us went to a culture hall called Absalon where they host a nightly communal dinner, and we got super inspired at that event. There was an emerging conversation about how we might bring that experience back to Seattle, and people looked to the college as a place where those feelings of community could develop. A team at the college came together to figure out how we might pull off a similar kind of community dinner. It surpassed our expectations. In terms of attendance, we had about 175 folks. It was a product of the students and the staff of the Culinary Academy.

It was also an opening of the college’s doors to say to the community, ‘we are here for you.’ Come have dinner with us tonight but stay engaged. Come see a play, come to the art gallery, come take a workshop or a class, and consider us part of the community, the intellectual and the cultural life of your neighborhood. We’re really your resource. And the feedback that we've received ever since that community dinner has been incredibly positive. The most common question we’re asked is, ‘when are we going to do it again?’ We are aiming to host quarterly community events, and our next community dinner will be in late October. We imagine doing one in February and then probably one in late spring or summer, just as an opportunity to bring the neighborhood together and connect folks to each other and to the college. I’m super excited about this form of community engagement and activation.

Q: I know there are many improvements to campus that are currently underway or that have already happened (like the rooftop solar panel system on the Broadway-Edison building, a new HVAC system, or the remodel of Broadway Performance Hall). Could you tell us about some of those projects?

A: Over the last few years, the college has updated its major institutional master plan and thought about its facilities in the decades to come. One of the major objectives in our strategic plan will be around modernization, especially of our Broadway Edison campus. And I think that's going to take several forms. We're doing a lot in terms of environmental sustainability. We began a project a few years ago to install solar panels on the roof of the Broadway Edison campus. It’s been successful, and we will keep expanding that project. We are also looking to update some of the campus energy systems. We have a project that we've entitled an EcoDistrict project where we will be renovating the HVAC system in what's really the largest building in the state’s community college inventory. We will be shifting away from steam heat into a much more environmentally sustainable model that will also allow us to generate extra energy that the neighborhood could potentially tap into. We are very excited about that EcoDistrict project and hope that it will wind up being a national model for how public institutions may contribute to the climate crisis in a positive way.

That's not where we're stopping, because there are going to be several buildings on campus that we'll see renovated over the coming years, probably starting with the Broadway Performance Hall, which is one of the oldest buildings on campus, dating back to the original high school campus. We're also looking at expanding our library, preserving the theater and meeting space in the building, but also creating some updated 21st century classrooms. We can also imagine a likely collaboration with student government to create a new Student Union building. The Broadway Edison building itself will probably undergo some renovation piece by piece, because it's actually three different buildings that have been wedged together over time. The northernmost portion of the Broadway Edison building will be the first to be renovated. I think in the next decade, we'll see a lot of these major projects come to fruition. And eventually we'll look back on a Broadway Edison campus that will look a lot different than it does right now.

Q: Enrollment has been up the last two years and numbers for fall quarter are exceeding expectations. How will we be bracing for growth in the next 5-10 years?

It's lovely that enrollment is growing. We have not yet hit the pre-pandemic heights, but we are growing in double digits. And we’re thankful for that because so many students sat out of higher education during the pandemic, and community colleges were the most impacted. Across the nation, over a million students sat out of higher ed, and those of us working in community colleges are concerned about how we re-engage these students so that it doesn’t become a generational impact of sitting out.

There are two ways I see us bracing for growth in the next several years. One is clarifying the mix of in-person, hybrid, and online options for our classes and programs. We’ve been gathering detailed information from students about their preferences — and how complex those preferences are, how different it is from subject to subject, how dependent it is on outside life factors. I imagine us continuing to clarify which degree programs make sense to be fully online versus fully in-person, and when there can be flexibility for students to choose between options. The other place I see us bracing for enrollment is not just in sustaining the programs that we have, but also creating new programs. I see the college continuing to develop additional baccalaureate programs. I see us continuing to develop new workforce certificates, especially in areas like healthcare and IT where Central already has a suite of programs.

Q: We recently recognized 122 employees who have served between 5 and 40 years at Seattle Central. We’ve also hired about 100 new faculty and staff this academic year. As one of the employees who celebrated a 15-year work anniversary at Seattle Central, do you have any words of wisdom to offer our new hires?

A: I would say the common lore about higher ed is that it’s easy to get siloed and to stay in your own world. My best advice is to seek opportunities to collaborate with people in different parts of the college. When I see people serve on College Council or on a college-wide committee, it opens their eyes to all the incredible things going on at the college that many people don’t know about. And it helps form those relationships that you didn't know you needed. As we’re serving students and encountering new challenges, those relationships become so important. I would say form those relationships with folks in different parts of the college and find opportunities that get you out of your own area as a way to grow.

The other piece of advice is to get out and visit our other locations. We have the Broadway Edison campus, but we also have the Health Education Center at Pacific Tower, the Wood Technology Center, and the Seattle Maritime Academy. And I can't tell you how often people who worked at the college for years haven’t gotten around to visiting our other locations. Get out and explore when you get a chance because it shows you what a large and complex organization we are.

Q: How has Central changed in those 15 years? In what ways is it the same?

A: One of the biggest draws to Seattle Central is its location in the vibrant heart of the city. But as the city around us changes and grows more expensive, dense, and gentrified, our student demographics have changed. 15 years down the road from when I started at Seattle Central, we now have the youngest student population of the three Seattle Colleges, which was not always the case. We also have the highest full-time student population of any of the Seattle Colleges. Because people are living further and further away from us, if they’re coming into the city, they’re going to stay the entire day. They're coming from the light rail, the ferry, or after a long drive, because we’re increasingly finding that the people who live in our neighborhood probably already have college degrees in order to afford to live here. We always want to be responsive to the students who are drawn to Seattle Central, so we are continuing to adjust in terms of our programs, course offerings, and the times of day we offer things.

Q: This week, we’ll be celebrating Commencement with about 1,000 graduates walking across the stage at T-Mobile Park. What advice – drawn from your time at Seattle Central or otherwise – would you offer the Class of 2024?

A: What I usually say to graduates of Seattle Central — both to pump them up and to inspire them — is that Seattle Central graduates are change makers in their communities, and that I really want them to use their voice. I want them to speak out, especially when they see injustice, and to help amplify the voices of people who’ve been silenced. That is something that comes first and foremost at Seattle Central. And it’s one of the things that a Seattle Central graduate can be most proud of. I think that sense of justice and that voice that has been developed even more as a result of coming here.

Q: As we close out the academic year, I’m sure many of us are looking forward to planning our summer watchlists. Are there any movies or TV shows that you’re looking forward to diving into this summer?

A: I am a committed reality TV fan. Every summer, one of my big pleasures is watching American Ninja Warrior. I love an obstacle course and I love a competition, and so American Ninja Warrior is always one of the highlights of the summer.

Q: I’d also love to know what songs are on your summer workout playlist.

A: A conversation that I've been having a lot with friends and coworkers is what the song of the summer is going to be. Right now, I think it's sort of a three-way tie. It could be Sabrina Carpenter. It could be Charlie XCX. Or it could be Chappel Roan. So, these are also some of the songs that are kind of finding their way onto my summer workout playlist.

Q: What are you most excited about for the next academic year?

A: Now that we’ve hired a lot of great staff and faculty, I'm excited to figure out how we retain and support them all. I'm excited to invite more students onto the campus than we've had in several years too. We’re also going to be putting the finishing touches on a multi-year strategic plan this coming year that I'm leading across the district. We've had a lot of fun on campus events this past year, from orientation in the fall, to Community Dinner, to Unity Fair. I'm looking forward to having another year of celebratory events with folks — I think that’s going to be part of what sustains us to keep up the hard work for this next chapter at the college.