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Interview with Santiago Canyon College President John Weispfenning


Portrait of John Weispfenning

Dr. John Weispfenning was confirmed as the fourth president of Santiago Canyon College in August 2014. Just prior to his appointment, he was vice president of instruction at Orange Coast College and before that dean of instruction for the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences and library at Santiago Canyon College. He started his career in 1992 as an assistant professor at the University of Maine, and subsequently joined the faculty of Otterbein University in Ohio before moving to California.

A native of North Dakota, Dr. Weispfenning holds a BA in mass communication from Minnesota State University (Moorhead), an M.A. in communication from North Dakota State and a Ph.D. in communications from Purdue. Before pursuing a career in academia, he worked as a journalist and radio broadcaster for stations throughout the Midwest. He is the author of more than a dozen scholarly publications on various media and mass communication topics.

How does it feel to be back at Santiago Canyon College as president? It feels great to be back. I always knew this was a special campus. There’s a spirit of cooperation here that’s rare in higher education. That spirit helps build a sense of shared ownership of the college and it’s a great organization.

What do you see as your primary role as president of SCC?
A president’s primary role is to make sure that the campus continues to have the resources it needs to thrive. He or she also needs to be able to look to the future and ensure that the college continues to build a following and remain relevant to the community it serves.

Prospective students have a lot of options in higher education. What makes SCC stand out as a choice?
SCC was just named one of the top 10 community colleges in the LA area, based on graduation rates. Our location is also a major factor. SCC is located in a beautiful area, convenient to freeways, toll roads and Jamboree Road. There’s also our amazing facilities, which include new science and humanities buildings, an athletics complex and library. We also offer an interesting range of course work, including popular transfer degrees, technical degrees and one of the largest trade apprenticeship programs in California.

After a year in the office and a chance to observe and evaluate, what do you see as the college’s strengths? Remaining challenges?
Hands down, the people who work here are our number one strength. Nothing happens unless faculty and staff make it happen. Our physical campus is in a beautiful location and we have the facilities to meet today’s and future needs. The addition of our science and humanities buildings has helped define a real center to campus and created a vibrant hub for student life.

As far as challenges, Santiago Canyon College needs to become a major player in Orange County. As the newest community college in the county, SCC has gone through some growing pains; the student body hasn’t actually grown as fast as the amazing facilities we have to accommodate them. We think the need and demand are there, but if we’re going to attract more students, we can’t be a local secret; we have to be one of the first community colleges that comes to mind for a student starting a college search, whether for a transfer degree, professional development or retooling for a new career.

What do you see as SCC’s primary role in the local community?
Our primary role is to provide affordable and clear pathways to a college degree or additional training to people who want to improve their economic standing or their understanding of the world (or both!) We offer a wide range of programs that allow people in our diverse district do just that. Beyond this mission, we are also a major employer for the City of Orange. We also want to be a good partner with surrounding communities we serve and with other non-profits. We have active partnerships with organizations like Orange County CoastKeepers, local Rotary Clubs, the Community Foundation of Orange and local K-12 school districts. We also are increasingly partnering with local universities, including Chapman University and Cal State Fullerton.

In addition, we want to be a vibrant resource and hub for the surrounding neighborhoods and are actively trying to develop ways to bring more people to campus by making our neighbors more aware of programs and events we host that would be of interest to them.

Any new program initiatives you like to share?
The State of California is engaged in a large number of initiatives that we are implementing, including programs that make transitioning to college easier (especially for traditionally under-represented populations), make transferring to four-year colleges easier and more transparent, provide better access to technical career education, and expand non-credit adult education that is designed to teach people necessary life and professional skills. We have recently started an innovative bio-technology certificate program to meet growing demand for people with practical skills in that area.

The physical plant of the college has come a long way since 2000, with Bond Measure E funds adding several new buildings. What’s the next building priority or priorities and the timetable for completion? Challenges to completion?
We’ll never be done; facilities development is an on-going process. But funding under Measure E is nearly finished; the current rehabilitation of the Orange Education Center on Batavia in Orange is the last Measure E project. The next two priority projects in the Facilities Master Plan are a new Student Center and a Performing Arts Center, but funding for these will likely require another local bond measure, in addition to state funding. I’d estimate that it’ll be at least 2020 before we can move forward on these projects.

The college has begun to engage alumni more actively in recent years, in ways very similar to the way four-year colleges do. What roles would you like to see SCC alumni playing at the college?
I hope our alumni will feel a strong connection to Santiago Canyon College. Many times alumni leave here and transfer their loyalty to their four-year transfer college. My hope is that they will proudly broadcast their decision to attend SCC as a smart decision, as well as the place where they got their start, found their passion or got their second chance. We want to be remembered and valued as having played an important role in their lives.

There are lots of roles our alumni can play at SCC. Whether alumni just come back to campus for an athletic event, keep a faculty member up-to-date or get involved by mentoring a student, accepting phone calls from students or joining the alumni network, every contribution matters. Students should keep SCC on their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles once they get into USC, Cal State Fullerton or UCLA. Once a Hawk, always a Hawk. To me, starting out at a high-quality community college like SCC is a smart economic decision. Why rack up loan debt taking two years of breadth requirements at a four-year, when you can achieve the same thing for much less money at SCC?

Where do you see the College in 2030, when it celebrates its 30th anniversary?
Looking into the crystal ball, I see the campus built out as planned, with a student center that will become the hub for student life and a performing arts center that will enrich the local cultural scene. We’ll be surrounded by new neighborhoods to the east that will become part of our community. We’ll continue to serve the diverse student body that we serve now. Our goal is to keep preparing students for an ever-evolving workforce, always with an eye on preparing them smarter and better. If we continue to do that, we can ensure that other local colleges will look to Santiago Canyon College as a role model, and that prospective students will think of SCC first when they start their college search.


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