By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Seeing how the school system treated students of color motivated Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap, the new president of South Seattle College (SSC), to start a career in education in order to help more students of color obtain the resources they need to succeed.
Born and raised in Charleston, S.C. to Filipino immigrants, Rimando-Chareunsap grew up well-connected in the Filipino American naval community. Her father is a U.S. Navy veteran who was in the submarine service, and her mother is a retired nurse.
Rimando-Chareunsap moved to Kitsap County in middle school when her father was stationed in Silverdale, and she grew up on Bainbridge Island. After graduating from high school, she obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English and Ethnic Studies from Washington State University (WSU) and a Master of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Washington. She also earned her Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration from WSU.
Growing up on Bainbridge Island, which is predominantly-white, spurred her to build strong connections with Indopino and Filipino American communities.
“I witnessed how differently students of color saw the school system. I was seen as college-bound so I got the support,” she said. “In large part, I realized I was treated like an exception. I didn’t have the terms to articulate it [then], but I knew it wasn’t right. I wanted to go into education because I wanted to positively impact experiences for other students of color, and that led me to look into secondary education, but I ended up sticking with community college. I really saw this exciting place with open access and a mission that resonated with what I wanted to accomplish for students of color.”
Rimando-Chareunsap became the president of SSC on July 1. She has been with SSC since 2000 and previously served as vice president of student services.
“When you’re in college as an undergraduate looking at majors and degrees, there’s no path to becoming a community college adviser or counselor, so that was something I wasn’t exposed to until I worked in it,” she explained. “When I got more experience, it really resonated with me that that’s where I knew I belonged for the duration of my career.”
Her top three priorities for SSC are to focus on strengthening the budgetary environment, redesigning the student experience at the colleges, and equipping staff to lead in the diversity and inclusion space.
“South is an institution that serves communities of color, and I want us to continue to be that institution that is also extremely high quality and effective and efficient at what we do,” she said. “That really requires a major change, and that will be the areas of focus for the next few years.”
One of the biggest challenges that she has faced has actually been the sheer volume of smaller challenges — such as microaggressions she’s experienced as a woman of color.
“POCs in general experience so often and so frequently microaggressions,” she said. “They continue to be painful and difficult. It’s not blatant enough to call out comfortably. It’s the assumptions that, as an Asian American woman, that I am agreeable all the time. Those types of stereotypes were prevalent throughout my career.”
“From early on, I’ve always known and understood the value of mentoring, but I’ve really struggled on and off to find someone to guide me,” she added.
When Rimando-Chareunsap went through the Leadership Development Program in Higher Education (LDPHE) in 2011, she was able to connect with a national community of professionals and was mentored from different folks in different ways. She was also mentored by a former supervisor who is a white male, as well as other women of color presidents in the system.
“I think about the level of support that I see for other POCs, and I know it continues to be a pervasive challenge,” she said. “I try to find ways to fulfill that role for others when they want or need that support as well. I hope to model that for others.”
AANAPISI and the future
Rimando-Chareunsap is also involved in establishing Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Seattle Promise tuition program.
The Seattle Promise College Tuition Program is a proposal to expand the 13th Year Promise Scholarship model to cover two years of tuition (instead of one) for all Seattle public high school graduates to attend any of the three Seattle Colleges. It will then go to vote in November.
“We’re trying to tackle this as a district as well. We have three presidents and a chancellor who are people of color, who can lead at a very visible and meaningful level to make change towards equity improvements,” she said, describing the collaboration to come.
“Dr. Rimando-Chareunsap is well positioned to lead SSC,” Seattle Colleges Chancellor Shouan Pan said. “She is highly respected for her deep commitment to student success and her equity-minded leadership focus. I look forward to working with her and supporting her presidency.”
“South has a legacy and history of being one of the first Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) in the U.S.,” said Rimando-Chareunsap. “It’s really positively influenced how we serve API students and informed how we serve other people of color, especially in immigrant communities.”
She also said she’s hoping to lead SSC to become a strong AANAPISI once again by pursuing additional funding in the years to come.
The AANAPISI program, one of eight federally designated Minority Serving Institution (MSI) programs, was established by Congress in 2007 as part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. It was expanded in 2008 under the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The AANAPISI program provides grants and related assistance to AANAPISIs to enable such institutions to improve and expand their capacity to serve Asian Americans and Native American Pacific Islanders and low-income individuals.
In her free time, Rimando-Chareunsap enjoys spending quality time with her two kids and husband, as well as enjoying good food with extended family.
For more information about South Seattle College, visit southseattle.edu.
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.