Outgoing BTC president says college is ready for new leader

Patricia McKeown has been president of Bellingham Technical College for five years and worked there for 31 years. Her last day is Tuesday, June 30.
Patricia McKeown has been president of Bellingham Technical College for five years and worked there for 31 years. Her last day is Tuesday, June 30. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed at Bellingham Technical College in the 31 years Patricia McKeown has worked there, it’s the college’s strong relationship with the community.

That means a lot for a college that relies on business and industry partners, and McKeown, who is retiring after five years as college president, said she is confident her replacement will continue strengthening those connections.

“It’s time for me to move on,” McKeown said. “It’s a really good time for the college to have a new leader and enter another era. I really feel like the college is in an excellent place.”

McKeown, 64, will serve her last day as president on Tuesday, June 30, after having worked at the college in various positions since 1984. She was chosen president in 2010, and will continue living in Bellingham after retirement.

McKeown was hired to fill a temporary position at the college in 1984. Since then, she has served as a curriculum specialist, program developer, coordinator, dean, and vice president of instruction. She was chosen interim president in July 2010 before she took the job permanently that December. She said she told the board of trustees then that she would work only five or six more years before she retired.

Bellingham Technical College has added nursing, dental hygiene and other more sophisticated technical and industrial programs in the last few decades, she said. Among other changes she has witnessed, one of the most significant was that BTC didn’t offer associate degrees until the 1990s. Starting in the 2016-17 school year, it will offer applied baccalaureate degrees.

In fall of 2013, faculty and administration hit a rough patch in contract negotiations. The faculty union went on strike demanding fair compensation, language defining workload, and protection against employee surveillance. The two sides eventually agreed on a contract after classes were postponed for a week.

McKeown said the college has moved on from the labor dispute.

“We’ve worked through that really well and we all learned a lot from the process,” she said. “I think there was a lot of integrity on both sides.”

Her main focus as president has been maintaining a strong connection with business and industry leaders in the community. That’s a quality she shares with incoming president Kimberly Perry.

Perry has been president of Butte-Glenn Community College District in California, and before that was vice president of academic affairs at Los Angeles City College. Perry edged out Ivan Gorne, assistant to the president of Bates Technical College in Washington, for the job at BTC.

Perry’s salary will be $190,000 annually, about the average wage for a technical college president in Washington. Her first day will be July 20.

McKeown said she will still support the college in her retirement, and she’s excited about the choice of Perry as president.

“So many people in the BTC community have contributed to putting the college in this place. It’s really in a good spot,” McKeown said. “I’ve been very honored to have a career that has made such a difference in people’s lives, and I’m leaving with a wonderful feeling.”

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.