by Ben Cripps
Whatcom Community College used to be a “college without walls,” said arts and humanities chair Bob Winters, who has been at the college for 26 years.” He paused. “I’m not really sure what that means,” he said with a laugh as he reflected on his time as an educator.
“The growth has been phenomenal,” he said. Winters started teaching at Whatcom when its first classes were held in a former supermarket on Marine Drive in Bellingham.
Winters is a native of Lakewood, Calif., a suburb of Longbeach, in the Los Angeles Basin. In 1971, Winters left Southern California for the University of California at Berkeley where he completed his undergraduate work and enrolled in the doctoral program for graduate studies.
As his enthusiasm wavered, partly because he went to college to avoid the draft, a professor encouraged him to finish his studies at the University of California at Irvine. Winters took the advice and earned his Masters of Fine Arts degree there.
“I was fortunate in the sense that I had tuition waivers and scholarships,” he said, “but I had some student loans by graduation. Three-thousand dollars was a lot then, now some people take that out just for a single quarter. I thought, how am I ever going to pay back all that money?”
After graduation, Winters got a job at Whatcom as an adjunct faculty member and saw the start of “something very unique for its time,” he said. Winters also worked in bookstores to make ends meet.
Almost three decades later, Winters is one of four divisional chairs for Whatcom. He oversees the English department, the visual and performing arts department and the world languages department.
The college today is still evolving, Winters said, but has a more traditional format. The original idea of an alternative-minded community college still thrives in the spirit of the students, faculty, and the Foundation, he said.
Winters saw the computer boom of the 90s take hold, and he helped Whatcom get a Title-3 grant from the federal government, which helped faculty create websites. “It was cutting-edge,” said Winters.
Despite the current budget cuts, “we’re still planning for the future,” he said.
Winters’ role as division chair enables him to continue evaluating curriculum and expanding on new opportunities. The online ANGEL system allows Winters to observe how a class is being taught in a web-based setting. He said this lets department management see how a typical session works. “We’re sort of finding our way through this,” he said.
A new faculty evaluation system will make for a more comprehensive look at faculty portfolios, which are evaluated for promotion packages.
Winters is keen on understanding how each department operates. There is no cookie-cutter way to manage each department because they each “grow organically, unique to its individual needs,” he said.
Winters is an educator devoted to his college. “What we provide is access to higher education for all,” he said. “Day-by-day, course-by-course, dollar-by-dollar, this is the best education in the state.”
“People tend to think that great instructors are only at four-year-institutions, but that simply isn’t true,” said Winters. “Teachers here have the credentials and background as good as any you’ll find, and I’ve been here too long to lie,” he said with a laugh.