College administrator eager to bring more students back to campus
When David Plotkin was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio, he thought he was going pre-med. And then he took calculus, and eventually became an English major. The Clackamas Print sat down with the college’s vice president of instruction and student services to talk about his life helping lead the college and when the college will be fully reopened.
The Clackamas Print: What is your job here at Clackamas Community College?
David Plotkin: A lot of meetings, and a lot of problem solving. And if I’m lucky, I actually get a chance to help solve a problem.
There’s a lot of dealing with budgets, which is probably my least favorite part of this job. Planning for the future, thinking about what kinds of programs might we start at the college, and thinking about ways that we can improve the facilities so that learning is better. Working with faculty on how they are assessing the programs, and if they need something, finding something for them. These days, it’s a lot of sitting in a Zoom Room with other people trying to figure out solving different kinds of problems. Sometimes they’re interesting problems. And sometimes our problems like the new building has a leak and how do we manage the people who need to have an office.
TCP: Do you have any worries about coming back onto campus this year with the pandemic?
Plotkin: No, I don’t. Personally, I don’t. But I, I worry about people who do, you know, that’s part of my job here is to be concerned about how employees and students are feeling and that they feel safe and that they are safe. So I think we’re taking a pretty gradual approach. But I also know for some people, this is the environment that you want to be in.
TCP: What programs would you like to see come back on campus and be in person?
Plotkin: The departments that I think are, I don’t know if I’d say suffering, but that need the most to have students being able to be back on campus, without a six foot distancing requirement are the programs that have hands on elements, so welding, automotive, and industrial technology.
All those programs now have limits on the number of students that they can serve. And there are students that want to get into those programs, and we can’t have them.
They’ve been teaching face-to-face for this whole time, but there’s some pretty strict guidelines. So as soon as we can, we would like to get to a place where we can have more students in these classes, because the faculty are feeling the crunch and seeing the current students who want to take their program, and they can’t.
TCP: Is there a certain time we could look forward to services like the library, guidance center and the weight room gym being open again?
Plotkin: The library does have hours that you can go to it. I think what you really want to know is when are we going to get back to more normal? That is a hard question to answer. I’m hopeful and I’m encouraging faculty to think about planning more in-person classes., I don’t think we will be fully back to something, whatever normal is going to look like in the future. But I’m hoping that is sometime this academic year.
TCP: How did you end up majoring in English in college?
Plotkin: My father was a pediatrician. So I briefly toyed in my freshman year with pre med. But I had a calculus course at 8 a.m.. And you know those dreams you have, where you’re in a classroom, and you’re taking the test, and you’re looking at the test, and you can’t understand any of it, you wake up in a cold sweat? Well, I kind of lived that experience. About 10 minutes after the test started, I left and I went to the professor and I said, you know, what can I do? And he said, Well, if you work really, really hard, you might be able to get a C. And I thought, okay, or I can just drop the class, which is what I ended up doing. And that was the end of my pre med aspiration. I always loved reading and writing.
TCP: What can you tell us about how you ended up in India on a fellowship?
Plotkin: Shanthi fellow is a post baccalaureate fellowship that the college I went to, which was Oberlin College in Ohio, offered its graduates.
So I applied for that, after I graduated, and I got that fellowship in India, and I taught at a college for a couple of years. That was an amazing experience. If you haven’t had a chance to travel outside of this country, and particularly in a country like India, it’s important for you to do so. Just because I think you will understand the inherent privilege that Americans have, but they kind of take for granted. We’re a pretty wealthy, and affluent country, even if there is a lot of inequity, and some very poor people in this country. It’s amazing what seeing another country can do for your perspective.
TCP: What resources and or services here at CCC do you believe to be the most underutilized?
Plotkin: We have a great advising staff. And we also know that a lot of students don’t connect with their advisor, and so often they’ll go down a path of taking courses or doing stuff that if they connected with someone, they might not have. So that’s something that we’re trying to fix by being more proactive with students and reaching out.
TCP: If you could change anything about CCC, what would it be?
Plotkin: There are a lot of reasons for it, but there are a lot of students who come here, they start and they don’t finish. And sometimes that’s not something they can control. But to the extent that we can do things like, find out if someone needs some extra money because their car broke down or provide a way for someone to get childcare so they can continue. It bothers me that we have so many students who don’t meet their goals. It’s not a blame thing on either side, it’s just one of those things that we need to get better. More communication, more systems that are in place that students can access or making sure they know that there are those systems in place.
TCP: Being the Vice President of Instruction and Student Services, what recommendations or advice would you give to returning and new students?
Plotkin: Well, we just did a survey of students and asked them what modality you preferred, and there were a number of students who replied that they wanted to have at least one of their classes be online and remote. So I’m not sure if this is going to answer your question. What I would suggest is if you’re in need of that kind of flexibility, don’t be shy about advocating for that with your faculty or with me. And if you’re someone for whom that modality doesn’t work, try to connect with the college and let us know what you need. And then I’d also say, stick with it. It’s got to be frustrating. This last year and a half has been horrible. Stick with it. It’s worth it.