Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap on Education and being South Seattle College’s First Female President of Color

by Carolyn Bick

Meet Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap, South Seattle College’s first woman of color to serve as president.

Looking out at the room from the stage at her first Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges (WACTC) meeting, Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap and the five others who became college presidents this year realized their very presence was a turning point in education.

All six of them were people of color, including Black and Asian college presidents in addition to Rimando-Chareunsap.

“And it was this moment where we’re standing up, looking around the room, and this acknowledgement that this marks change,” Rimando-Chareunsap said.

The 40-year-old Rimando-Chareunsap is the first woman of color to serve as South Seattle College’s president, following a six-year career as the college’s Vice President of Student Services.

Though she was born in Charleston, South Carolina, Rimando-Chareunsap’s parents are Filipino immigrants. The family moved to Kitsap County when she was a young girl. Her mother was a nurse, and her father was in the United States Navy’s military communications division. Both expected that whatever path their daughter followed, she would go to college along the way — “as many immigrant parents do for their kids,” she said.

Rimando-Chareunsap initially attended Washington State University, starting in 1995. She began studying  journalism and writing, but found herself drawn to education, because of her own experiences during high school. Describing herself as “one of the few brown kids who … was college-bound,” Rimando-Chareunsap recalled watching many of her peers and friends receive little to no attention from their high school guidance counselors, and slip through the cracks.

“Some of them might have went on and pursued something, but they didn’t have the educational support. They weren’t thought of to take to the college fairs, and things like that,” Rimando-Chareunsap remembered. “I really felt that in my heart. And at the time, I didn’t have the words to articulate what I was seeing, but, essentially, I was seeing forms of institutionalized racism, forms of social inequalities at play.”

When she matriculated at Washington State University, the College of Education was running a program called Future Teachers of Color that focuses on getting more people of color into teaching roles through programs like an annual conference and professional development activities. Rimando-Chareunsap saw the opportunity to start working against the inequities she witnessed in her own education and joined the program.

Since then, Rimando-Chareunsap said, she has carved out a career path devoted to serving underrepresented groups, particularly students of color. She started working for South Seattle College in 2000 in various positions until 2012, when she became Vice President of Student Services. In this role, she used a few questions to guide her advising strategy: “How do students of color, in particular, experience education differently?” and “How do I make advising better, so that it serves students of color and underrepresented groups?”

Her career has changed and has allowed her a broader view of how to help students. As the college’s new president, she now has even more tools at her disposal.

“It’s this idea that we have the tools to address institutionalized racism, to address unconscious bias in our education system, to build better systems that are more supportive, to develop colleagues into more culturally competent professionals to better serve our students,” Rimando-Chareunsap said. “I can now see, and am excited about being able to do that in this role, and being able to lead an entire institution to become that … educational institution that I think my friends deserved.”

Equally as important, she said, is the physical presence of a woman of color at the helm of an academic institution. It’s important that students see themselves reflected in leadership, she said, because this bolsters their faith and confidence in themselves.

“If I had met more women of color in leadership roles, I just wonder how my career and my education would have been differently and more positively impacted, along the way,” Rimando-Chareunsap said, “If there was someone like me at my high school, that my friends would have had different experiences than they did.”

Rimando-Chareunsap said she “has a ton of ideas and thoughts” that need further vetting and development, before revealing them, but one idea she has been involved in instituting for the last few years is called Guided Pathways, which focuses on keeping students on track with their degrees, instead of what she called the “cafeteria model.”

“You don’t take an art class here, and a math class here, and a couple of yoga classes there, and hope you come out with a degree at the end,” she said.

“Students, under that model, aren’t persisting towards their goals, and are therefore spending more time and more tuition money without completing degrees,” she explained. “We are undergoing a major redesign effort. It means we are going to change how we do advising and admissions and the support along the way. It means that we redesign how our instructional programs are built and how programs are offered.”

She also wants to foster an atmospheric change to support parents that stems from her experience as a mother of two young children. As a parent, she said, she straddles two worlds at once, often, for instance, “figuring out first-grade bus drop-off at the same time that I am working on declining enrollment and budget challenges.”

“I also do actively think about what this place is like for parents to work in, and really, trying to find ways to … make us a more modern workplace for working moms, for new parents,” Rimando-Chareunsap said. “I think, a lot of times, parents feel like you have to hide that part of yourself from your job, so as not to be seen as a weak performer, and I think that those need not be exclusive concepts.”

Featured Image Courtesy Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap.

The article and headline have been corrected. Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap is the first woman of color to head South Seattle College, not the first person of color.