Two certificates, two associate degrees, two bachelor’s degrees, one master’s degree and a doctorate on the way. Learning has been a lifestyle for Mon Khat, the new Dean of Career and Technical Education.
Despite his title and abundance of degrees, Khat has seen himself as a student all of his life.
“The idea of learning and experimenting with something new and different has always been appealing to me,” Khat said. “It hasn’t been a direct line of movement or progression, but zig-zagging.”
Khat attributes his drive to work hard to his background as a Cambodian refugee. Coming from a rural farming background, Khat and his family left Cambodia when he was one year old.
“Part of why I bounced around from this degree to that degree was because I had no one to tap into as a resource or a reference,” Khat said. “It was always kind of a hustle. I understood early on that hustling without a large skill set made the work I did more labor-intensive with less earning potential.”
After dropping out of high school, Khat went on to do a number of entry-level jobs. At age 17, he joined the army and became an army medic. He then spent a few years in the reserves before his honorable discharge in 2006.
Khat used money from the GI Bill to pay for college, where he continued the “ongoing, morphing process” of working and studying that led him to his current position. Khat worked in modelling and acting, managing retail and even being a one-man show at a friend’s wedding: DJ, emcee, and officiant.
“All my degrees are in different areas,” Khat said. “It’s always good to have that second backup. Then a third backup and a fourth, just in case.
Khat began his career in education working in the information technology department. He ran computer labs, gave students access accounts and helped faculty members teach courses as they adapted to new technologies. He then went on to teaching and eventually becoming a department chair, then an academic senate president and finally an assistant dean.
Khat’s new position as CTE dean aligns with his experience of scaffolding getting an education and gaining professional experience. Khat relates to students who are unsure of their career path or who do not have the means to stay in college for four years.
“CTE gives them power to earn and live and experience and move on with their life,” Khat said.
Khat considers the realities of students in CTE, which includes programs offering degrees and certificates in fields like nursing, automotive technology, welding, and business. He recognizes that students continue to learn as they pursue careers.
Khat encourages students to be patient with themselves and not compare themselves to others.
“You have to be okay with realizing you may take more time than someone,” Khat said. “You have to be okay with moving at your own pace. We all live different lives.”
The ability to study and work simultaneously was also imperative to Khat’s professional journey.
“If I didn’t have programs where I could go back and forth between getting an education and going out [into the workforce], I don’t know where I would be today,” Khat said.
To do the best work they can for students, Pierce’s deans emphasize the importance of team effort, according to Sharon Dalmage, Dean of Academic Affairs.
“We’re like a small little family,” Dalmage said. “We have to be because even though we all manage different academic programs, in some ways they’re intertwined.”
Susan Rhi-Kleinert, another Dean of Academic Affairs, said that Khat is a welcome addition to this family of deans, and also believes Khat is the right person to head CTE.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” Rhi-Kleinert said. “The work that he was doing has been seamlessly transitional.”
To Khat, the best part of the job is the ability to help students succeed by providing them with quality opportunities, and his advice for his students is to find their passion before they choose a specific career.
“Think about what you do with your time and try to make the most of it, even if it doesn’t seem like the best thing to other people,” Khat said. “Just ignore the money and the title and go from there.”
After finishing his doctorate, Khat does not plan on stopping his education or career expansion. He may even return to DJing.
“I enjoy having the experience of learning from others and living through their experiences,” Khat said. “That’s what brings me here every day.”