by Taylor Nichols
If the new Dean for Instruction Ed Harri looks familiar to many at Whatcom Community College, it’s because he has spent more than a third of his life as a member of the faculty.
As of July, he has taken on the newly developed position.
Harri, 38, works closely with Vice President for Instruction Ron Leatherbarrow to do much of the behind-the-scenes work for Whatcom.
This work includes tracking student success and enrollment rate, adding and removing classes, and making sure the college is eligible for financial aid.
“I love the fact that it’s a new position because it’s allowed me to define what the position is and to be creative,” he said.
He also temporarily co-directs the eLearning program, along with IT director Ward Naf.
Harri moved to Bellingham 16 years ago and began working at Whatcom in 1999, after completing his Graduate Degree in mathematics at Western Washington University.
He said that his “first adult job” was working at Whatcom as a math instructor.
He then became the chair for the math department and then the division chair for the science, math and engineering departments before becoming the dean for instruction.
Harri’s experience being a math instructor gives him a broader perspective on how his choices as dean for instruction affect both the staff and students.
“It’s easier to see how it made a difference when I was in the classroom because my work with the students was so direct,” Harri said of decisions he influences.
“I have a better sense of the big picture now but I’m helping others see the big picture,” said Harri. “Part of my job is to … help others see what’s going to be useful for them.”
Harri gathers information about the student body and how the college is doing overall to fulfill requirements set by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. This allows the college to be accredited.
Being accredited as a college is important for many reasons. “To the community and our students it says we meet the standard for accreditation,” Harri said. “Our staffing and technology resources are sufficient to do the work that we have to as a college.”
Harri said he enjoys his administrative work for its problem-solving aspects as well as the opportunity for a creative outlet, and that he plans to continue this type of work for the foreseeable future.
“If I didn’t have those components I would miss teaching terribly, because that’s what teaching is about,” he said.
Harri’s decision to leave his teaching position for an administrative one was anything but easy for him, but he said he saw it as an opportunity to make positive changes for the college.
“Just like a teacher goes into a classroom wanting to make an impact, I wanted to make an impact on a larger scale across the whole college,” Harri said.
Harri said he considers the most important parts of his job to be helping the staff understand the information he helps to compile, like how the students are doing academically and what kinds of courses are most popular, to help teachers in the classroom.
He said that he and his fellow faculty members have focused on devising systems to make sure they get all of the information they need and that it’s well-rounded and complete information. They try to do this without requiring that staff and students go too far out of their way to provide this information.
“We try to avoid redundancy as a staff to help them do their work and help the student,” said Harri.
The most challenging part of Harri’s position fluctuates, depending on the day. “I think it’s juggling a lot of different things and trying to connect them when possible,” he said. However, the variety that his job provides from day to day is what he said he enjoys as well.
Harri divides his time between his work and his family. He and his wife of 16 years have two daughters, ages 5 and 2.
“My day is getting my oldest ready for school, coming to work, going home and spending time with them before bedtime, and collapsing before I do it all over again,” he said.
Harri said that he loves to spend time with his kids outside on bike rides, hikes, and taking them to track meets or parks in good weather. He’s also working with his oldest daughter, who’s in kindergarten, to help her learn to read and become familiar with numbers.
When he’s not at work or spending time with his family, Harri can be found running on one of the many trails here in Bellingham.
“I spend most Sunday mornings on Galbraith or on the Chuckanuts,” said Harri, smiling.
He was a competitive runner for much of his life before he had kids and though he has continued running since, he said he no longer competes.
Having been on all sides of the spectrum as a student, teacher and key decision maker for the college, Harri had some important advice to give to the student body: ask questions.
“Sometimes, you just need to ask somebody, and that could be anybody – an advisor, an instructor, fellow students,” Harri said. “But to not ask for help and just disappear, that’s terribly sad to me.”