Long Time Administrator, VPAA, Dr. Joanna Schilling Becomes Cypress College’s President

Written by Zachary Mejia , Managing Editor

This semester Rio Hondo College not only bids farewell to Spring 2017 graduates but also to Interim Vice President Dr. Joanna Schilling. After meeting with Cypress College’s board of trustees, and addressing the college’s campus community at an open forum, with five other finalists, Schilling was chosen as the school’s 12th president. Schillings will succeed the current president, Dr. Bob Simpson, at the beginning of July.  

While Schilling’s transition will be not be easy, Cypress and Rio Hondo’s campus have much in common. Both schools face similar problems and have a similar number of students, Cypress’s campus numbering at 16,000 and Rio Hondo’s at 19,000.

An issue that is currently plaguing both community colleges is student enrollment. Schilling attributes the fluctuation of student enrollment to the status of the economy. Enrollment tends to increase when employment is difficult, and decreases when students prioritize work.

“What we want to do is balance that”, said Schilling, “So we want to make sure the students are coming to improve their career opportunities, rather than just taking the short term jobs…One of the jobs of this office is to find creative ways that we can support students so that they can complete their degree and stay in school and not have to work 40 hours a week while they are taking two or three classes.”

An insufficiency of student pursuit in higher education is not the only consequence to low enrollment numbers, but the funds of the college also suffer. Community colleges receive funds from the state based off of student enrollment. The less number of students enrolled from one semester to the next reduces the number of funds that is available to support academic programs and pay salaries.

After familiarizing herself with both the students and faculty of Cypress college, Schilling wants to create a student spotlight project called “My Cypress Story.” where each month a student is highlighted with video interviews and posters to promote student excellence.

“Always putting the students at the center and hearing our students’ stories makes a big impact on everybody on the campus because it reminds [them] of what their needs are,”said Schilling.

Student selection would be based off of faculty recommendations or an open application that students can enter.

Schilling’s new role as president of Cypress College will change how she manages the school’s administration. She will be transitioning from a hands on managerial role, where she oversaw the development of new programs, grants, and curriculum, to more of a public image of the college.

She will be charged with creating a vision for the college’s future, in terms of programs and construction, and handling the fiscal responsibility that will be required to fulfill the vision.

“The president’s job is to create a clear vision for the college and make sure that we have the resources to reach that vision,” explained Schilling. “[The president] creates the vision, the team to do those things and makes sure that they have the money to pay for it.”

Schilling has a diverse background extending beyond Rio Hondo. She served on the board of the East Whittier Arts Foundation, as well as a juror for the Newport Beach Film Festival, and on the California Arts Council. She is a skilled playwright, screenwriter, and trained vocalist. She is well known in the arts and theater communities, as well as Cerritos College, from her time as the school’s interim vice president.

Schilling is open to cross campus collaborations between Cerritos, Cypress, and Rio Hondo. Having a history at all three college’s will be beneficial in establishing and maintaining contact with each school.

“My feeling is we’re serving the same mission,” said Schilling, “We have different students who have different needs at each college, but the bottom line is how are we helping our students…it’s about sharing and using good ideas.”

During her tenure as interim vice president, Schilling oversaw the acquisition of several prestigious grants for Rio Hondo.

In the last year, Rio Hondo has received two basic skills grants. They were pilot partnership programs between Rio Hondo, K-12 partner schools, and CSULA to analyze the remediation issue with Math and English in all three systems, and find a way to reform the two subjects’ curriculum.

Schilling is proud that Rio Hondo was the only college in the state to receive basic both basic skills grants. She has also been instrumental in developing partnerships with K-12 schools to provide college courses for students prior to coming to Rio Hondo.

Schilling worked with the offices of Henry Gee, vice president of student services, and Mike Muñoz, dean of counseling, to create president Teresa Dreyfuss’s “Rio Hondo College Promise”, an initiative that would cover the cost of incoming fall 2017 freshmen’s first year tuition. The project will be financed through the Rio Hondo College Foundation.

Despite being a part of something as grand as free higher education, Schilling is most proud of her efforts at reducing the cost that students have to pay for books. She was able to obtain a grant for open educational resources to reduce cost of books. She believes that the grant is a good start towards eliminating the cost of books for students, but feels that it needs to be nurtured and developed for it to be fully realized.

Schilling’s main role in these department wide collaborations was to apply for the grants, provide the faculty that rewrites the curriculum with resources, and to ensure that the grant requirements are met.   

Reflecting on her time as an administrator for Rio Hondo and the team she worked with, Schilling stated, “Rio Hondo has been my home for a very long time, I love this college and the students. I couldn’t ask for a better team of dean’s, they’re and dedicated. I’m proud of the work that our college is doing because it’s going to make a big difference in our students’ success.”

In her short tenure as interim vice president, Schilling was a part of many progressive programs that will continue, should they be developed, to benefit the school in the years to come.