By Jessica Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Dr. Amit Singh started his post as president of Edmonds Community College (ECC) at the end of June 2018. Originally from northeastern India, he came to the Pacific Northwest via several other successful career stints in Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. He had never been to Washington prior to his interview for the college presidency — but he’s very glad he’s here now.
“I feel fortunate that I ended up in the Northwest, and at Edmonds Community College,” he said recently from his office in Lynnwood. “I love the community. I love the people. I love our college. There’s so much potential, and the college can do so much for this local community.”
Singh has his eye on several areas of development for the college. Even though he has been here a short while, he is savvy about the makeup of the college’s location and what is important for residents, and he wants to ensure that ECC appropriately responds to the needs of the students that it serves. Particularly, he realizes that the college should strive to align itself with the primary industries in the area, which are manufacturing (aerospace), medical equipment, and healthcare. While Singh understands that many graduates of the college will migrate to King County and work in the tech field, his research nevertheless reveals that Snohomish County has 21 percent of manufacturing jobs — and those jobs need to be filled.
According to Singh, about half of ECC students expect to transfer to a larger institution, while the other half are at Edmonds to get a degree and “get back into the workforce.”
Some of the degrees that attract students to Edmonds are nursing and cybersecurity.
The college has also recently broke ground on a new STEM building. Regardless of student intentions, and in spite of society’s periodic attacks on the relevance of higher education, Singh is adamant that some kind of college degree is still important. He is also optimistic about developments under the current administration, as students have benefitted so far from increased allotments for Pell Grants and, at Edmonds, a TRiO Grant for low-income students.
“Of course I’m biased,” he laughs. “But also, I’m gonna be neutral. What I really believe in — and it’s not just because I work in higher ed — people talk about liberal arts education and they talk about technical education, right? To me, it’s not either/or. You need to have both.”
If robotics, increased automation, and artificial intelligence is the wave of the future, Singh pointed out that that could very likely cause certain types of jobs to disappear. In order to prepare, Singh said people should be thinking about the types of skills that cannot be taken away — skills provided by a well-rounded college degree.
“Higher level mental skilled jobs,” Singh emphasized, are those that will still be in demand for human workers. “Problem solving. Systems thinking. Critical thinking. That education comes from liberal arts education.”
Singh stressed that it remains important to have a degree, but not just any degree.
“The difference is that, 30 or 40 years ago, if you had a higher (education) degree, you were in demand. That’s not the case anymore…You need to have the right degree to get the right job,” he explains. “The right skills and knowledge.”
ECC has what Singh calls a guided pathway. ECC gets involved with students starting in high school for what Singh describes as “career exploration.” The idea is to make sure that students follow their interests, but in focused ways that will allow them the best chance to succeed in the job market. To that end, Singh intends to ensure that the college forms community partnerships in order to assess what type of labor force is needed.
“My focus right now is learning where are the skill gaps, what are we not doing to help our business and industry…then we will build the curriculum, build the courses and programs to support that.”
Singh’s ability to view a situation neutrally, and to seek out what is best for the community at large, has served him well in other, less inclusive populations, such as when he worked in Georgia. “There was a lot of issues with race, all the time,” he said, unlike what he senses in the Pacific Northwest. Singh’s approach was to pay attention to all of the forces at work, such as the local economy,
“I would tell the truth, so people respected me for that. Everybody in the community, whether Black or white, embraced me in South Georgia, because they saw somebody who’s not political, not biased, just telling the truth…I was neutral and I was focusing on what’s good for the community.”
While Singh himself has not experienced any significant incidents of discrimination in his own life or career, he is aware that others do. He understands the importance of promoting diversity and cultural competence, particularly in a community such as Lynnwood where, as Singh reported, 40 percent of the residents are non-Caucasian and 30 percent speak English as a second language.
“It’s a very diverse community, and our college is very diverse…This is also the reality — that our state, our community, and the country, we’re going to become more diverse…so we need to continue to work with our diverse population…so they can be successful.”
Most of Singh’s family members reside in the United States now, and they own property in India that he visits yearly to check up on. Singh is enthusiastic about living a little closer now to a sister who resides in Canada. And Singh and his wife are eager for their son — about to graduate from college in Ohio with a degree in computer science — to come to Washington and take advantage of all the area has to offer. Singh’s wife, who taught computer science prior to caring for their now 9-year-old daughter, is eager to return to work in tech as well. The Singhs are enjoying the sights, such as a recent visit to Pike Place Market, and Singh admits he loves the fall weather and the omnipresence of coffee.
Jessica Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.