Brian Ellison has run the gamut of roles at the community college level.
Beginning his affair as a student perusing course offerings at San Diego Mesa College, he quickly returned to the system, serving as a professor, dean and vice president up and down the state.
As one of four remaining candidates for president of Contra Costa College, Dr. Ellison, 50, believes his diverse experience could provide a holistic perspective leading the college.
“I am a product of the community college system,” he said during Thursday’s candidate’s forum in the Fireside Room. “I wasn’t one of those persons who had a major and stuck with it.
“Having been in that environment for many years, you begin to understand how to work with community college students,” he said. “I think I have an innate feel of what it’s like.”
Ellison would replace former CCC president McKinley Williams, who retired in December 2011. District Chancellor Helen Benjamin will choose Williams’ successor April 11. The Governing Board will vote on her recommendation May 23.
Serving as the vice president of instruction and student services at San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), a six-campus, non-credit institution that serves about 100,000 students each year, Ellison knows just how integral student services are to student success.
Overseeing both arenas, he is familiar with the delicate budget balancing of course sections and the services and classified staff that help “shepherd” students from arrival through to completion.
“Often times, the initial point of contact is with a classified person,” he said. “The role is huge, and I think having a good understanding of everything that happens at a community college (is paramount).”
While the institution he has served for the past five years is non-credit and funded in a different manner than CCC, Ellison said SDCE has weathered the same fiscal cuts while maintaining a very similar mission.
He said keeping the spirit of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education alive through the recession is a responsibility he would assume if chosen.
“The architecture (of the plan) is to provide everybody in California with higher education,” he said, noting the cyclical nature of the economy and consequent funding to higher education.
While awaiting economic recovery, Ellison has not remained idle. Developing mutually beneficial connections with local businesses in San Diego and hunting for grants have been instrumental in his effort to offset the reductions in allocation.
“I don’t know how a college gets around without making those connections at this time,” he said.
Jim Vincent, dean of business and information technology at San Diego Continuing Education, said Ellison successfully secured grants for the registered nursing program and other vocational programs after his arrival in 2007.
“He’s very forward thinking,” Vincent said. “He recognizes that obviously public education in California is under a lot of challenges, and he’s proactive with dealing with that.”
To address student success, Ellison said creating shorter and more flexible course offerings would better accommodate the many students who are forced to drop courses when outside responsibilities take priority.
“Eighteen weeks is a long time (for a class). Life can intervene,” he said.
Anne Heller, dean of Educational Cultural Complex at Ellison’s current institution, said Ellison sits on various staff and faculty committees to have an ear to the ground and also facilitate a shared governance environment.
“Whenever you go to him with a new idea, a creative way to expand the program or better serve students, he’s open to listening,” she said. “He’s open to new ideas.”
Heller said she is confident Ellison has the ingenuity and know-how to affect positive change at any community college.
“He is one of those people who will move the organization forward. He may do it in an organized, methodical way, (but he will),” Heller said. ”I think he is someone who is ready to move on. I think it’s just a matter of where he becomes president.”
Ellison transferred to San Diego State University after community college, earning a bachelors degrees in sociology and psychology in 1985, and his master’s in applied sociology in 1987.
One year later, Ellison began a 12-year tenure teaching sociology and psychology at Merced College where, under the wing of then-president Tom Harris, he developed interest as an administrator.
A Southern California native, Ellison moved north in 2000 when offered the position of dean of instruction at City College of San Francisco. In 2002, he received his doctorate in education from the University of La Verne.