About President Lawson
As the new president at CGCC, Dr. Kenneth “Kenny” Lawson (he/him) intends to put diversity, equity, and inclusion at the core of the college’s efforts.
“If we are going to fulfill our promise and meet our mission as an open-access, comprehensive community college–especially as our society becomes more diverse–it is vitally important to represent the diversity of our district and allow space for the voices of underrepresented communities to be heard and amplified,” he said.
Dr. Lawson knows the role community colleges play in enacting positive social change.
“Community colleges were designed to serve a social justice mission by providing accessible opportunities for all people to improve their lives and communities through education.” According to Dr. Lawson, “this is particularly true in rural communities.”
At CGCC, he believes these responsibilities include implementing policies and practices that fulfill the college’s role as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). This means eliminating equity gaps for Latino/a/x/e students, and increasing equitable access and achievement for all students.
“We need to make sure our students are successful, and that means, in part, ensuring a strong voice, representation, and sense of belonging,” he said. “Ultimately, I would like to see CGCC be seal-certified by Excellencia in Education."
Dr. Lawson discovered his passion for community college while working on his dissertation and teaching basic education at Olympic College in Bremerton, WA.
“The students in those classes were motivated to learn,” Dr. Lawson said. “It dawned on me that many of these students were really at a crossroads. Earning an educational credential was likely to be the difference in their ability to find a family-sustaining wage and have a real opportunity for social mobility.”
After completing his doctorate, Dr. Lawson taught political science and international studies at Shoreline Community College. He focused on serving students as both a faculty member and the Dean of the Social Sciences/Equity and Social Justice division.
“Helping students find a major they were interested in was meaningful, but being able to make a genuine difference in their quality of life and their ability to participate both in the workforce and as engaged community members has been a calling for me,” Dr. Lawson said.
Dr. Lawson draws from his own experiences navigating higher education when helping students. He was born in Southern California, and moved to Park City, Utah with his family at the age of seven. Dr. Lawson attended the University of Utah after high school, but didn’t know what he wanted to study. He initially considered architecture.
“I got hung up in some of the advanced math and engineering classes,” he said. “I decided political science was more interesting."
Dr. Lawson intended to study law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, CA. However, his car broke down outside of Salt Lake City.
“I took that as a sign that law school wasn’t meant for me,” he said. “Instead, I returned to the University of Utah to earn my master’s in political science.”
Entry into grad school had its hiccups; Dr. Lawson said he was self-advised and made the mistake of not completing his bachelor’s degree before getting accepted into his master’s program. While almost denied entry, he petitioned for acceptance and was allowed to complete his final undergraduate art credit during graduate school.
Dr. Lawson learned a lot from this experience.
“You don’t need to do everything on your own; draw from the people with expertise,” he said. “Sometimes students make mistakes: help them, learn from them and move forward.”
Dr. Lawson finally made it to the West Coast when he moved to Seattle in 1990 to pursue his doctorate in political science at the University of Washington. He said it didn’t take long for him to feel at home in the Pacific Northwest.
“The rain didn’t take too long to get used to, and I have always enjoyed living near the water,” Lawson said. “Good coffee and great beer only cemented my connection to the area.”
The passion he felt for the political science field ultimately led Dr. Lawson to his work in education.
“Throughout most of my graduate student years, I was fortunate to have a teaching assistantship,” he said. “It was a privilege to be a part of students getting excited about learning, and helping them see the world in a different, more nuanced way.”
Dr. Lawson went on to serve as the Dean for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Seattle Central College. He joins CGCC from his most recent position as Vice President for Instruction at Skagit Valley College.
Dr. Lawson expects to spend his first year at CGCC listening, learning, and maintaining current momentum around the implementation of new information systems, development of an athletics program, and increased outreach to Latinx communities, indigenous peoples, and other underrepresented groups.
The new president has some initiatives in mind, including the establishment of an inclusive, collaborative, and integrated planning process.
“I believe strongly that good planning and decision-making require meaningful input from key constituencies, including the students, faculty and staff, and community stakeholders,” Dr. Lawson said. “In my experience, a healthy planning process will position us to allocate resources wisely and make strategic investments that are most likely to expand equitable access to higher education, improve student learning and success, and ultimately generate positive impact for the diverse communities we serve.”
Dr. Lawson intends to bring guiding principles to the campus to help define how members of the campus community interact and create an aspirational space to work and learn.
His efforts to make a positive impact in higher education are inspired by faculty, staff, and community members who seek to improve the opportunities for student learning, as well as the students who navigate overly complex and bureaucratic college systems.
“Most of us working at community colleges know the hurdles and challenges faced by many of our students,” he said, “and it’s incredible to watch when they take off, land a successful career or transfer to a university, and then pay it forward by giving back to their families and communities.”
Other sources of inspiration for Dr. Lawson include his wife, who identifies as First Nations. She grew up in Longview, WA and currently works for Western Governors University as the Regional Vice President for the Northwest.
Dr. Lawson and his wife share four kids, who range from ages 16-27, and a black lab named Cosmo.
“Our oldest son works in Seattle as a software developer, and our 24-year-old daughter, who is neuro-divergent, lives with us and, for now, plans to stay in Seattle,” Dr. Lawson said. “Our youngest daughter just graduated from high school and will be attending Western Washington University this fall. Finally, our youngest son will be a junior in high school this year. We split residential time with his biological dad, and my wife will continue to live in our home in north Seattle until he graduates.”
Dr. Lawson said he is proud of the way each of his children have uniquely responded to life’s adversities. This undoubtedly shaped his optimism for the future.
“The next generation gives me hope that we will tackle some of the very serious issues facing society today: the spreading impacts of climate change, the exponential growth of Artificial Intelligence, and the need to confront systemic racism and inequity,” he said. “I see the desire and motivation in the next generation to make the world a better, more equitable place, and that certainly inspires me to keep working in the same direction.
In addition to hanging out with his friends and family, Dr. Lawson enjoys reading, eating good food, drinking craft beer, and listening to an eclectic mix of music that ranges from honkytonk to jazz to old-school punk rock. He also goes running, hiking, fishing, and golfing, all of which he will be able to enjoy while in The Gorge.
Ultimately, Dr. Lawson wants to share his excitement to serve as CGCC’s next president.
“It’s a privilege to land at a rural college with a strong potential to make a positive difference in the quality of life and economic vitality of the region,” he said. “If you have an idea, suggestion, or question for me, please know I’d be grateful to hear from you. I am eager to meet everyone at CGCC and in the wider Columbia Gorge community.”
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Leadership and Advising
President's Council - The President's Council advises the president, and is made up of Vice Presidents and Executive Directors at CGCC.