Experiences can be one of life’s greatest teachers.
In the first five months of Pierce College President Alexis Montevirgen’s tenure, he experienced a faculty external investigation, a student body president impeachment and his campus turned into an emergency animal evacuation center.
The life of a college president may seem daunting, but for Montevirgen, staying true to his morals throughout the problems he faced helped him power through his first semester.
“I think for me it helps to be grounded by what I shared with the campus community from the very beginning of my commitment in terms of transparency, collegiality and respect and using that as a foundation for the college,” Montevirgen said.
Despite the challenges, Montevirgen said he fully understood what he signed up for when he accepted the position.
“The college operates and so we have things that come up and I think that anyone that fills a role as a college president just knows and expects that you can’t foresee everything that’s going to happen,” Montevirgen said. “But then you are aware that these things can happen and you just have to roll with it and address it the best you can.”
As his first semester at Pierce comes to a close, Montevirgen said it’s hard to believe that it’s now been five months at the helm.
He said his biggest challenge so far has been dealing with the investigation of Head Football Coach Carlos Woods and the failed hiring of an athletic director.
Although these were tough circumstances to deal with early in his presidency, Montevirgen said it gave him a chance to show the campus how he can resolve problems in a professional manner.
“I think to be able to have addressed something like that at that point which was only two or three months into the position was definitely not the most ideal,” Montevirgen said. “But I think looking through the silver lining in everything and having to work through a situation like that actually helped show the campus how I approach these types of things that can and will happen in the future.”
Montevirgen’s first move was to put Coach Woods on temporary leave and then went to speak with the football team at their practice about the severity of the situation. He said players were disgruntled about the impact of the investigation on their personal goals, such as getting scholarship offers and transfer opportunities.
“I view my role as college president is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students,” Montevirgen said. “For me, it was important to at least not hide behind the office walls and to make sure that I made that time to speak to them directly.”
Within days of launching the investigation of Woods, the Saddle Ridge Fire in Porter Ranch sparked evacuations for some Pierce students and faculty. Los Angeles County officials turned the Equestrian Center into an emergency large animal evacuation center overnight, housing more than 100 horses and other large animals.
Montevirgen closed the campus on Oct. 11 and visited the Equestrian Center to ensure everything was running smooth while the college acted as a shelter. Montevirgen said what impacted him the most was seeing the response and the appreciation from the members of the community who were able to utilize the resources and drop off their animals.
“What would they have done if Pierce wasn’t here?” Montevirgen said. “I think that’s part of that community engagement aspect that I want to focus on more.”
Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez praised Montevirgen for his influence on the community and the work he has done so far as president.
“He has increased the visibility and awareness of LAPC by visiting with key, local leaders in the Pierce College service area, as evidenced during the recent fires,” Rodriguez said in an email. “Dr. Montevirgen has both the temperament and skill to be an excellent president and he has been a welcome addition to the LACCD family.”
Other than community engagement, Montevirgen also put an emphasis on transparency this semester.
In late October, Montevirgen initiated Coffee and Conversation with the President, where anyone on campus could walk in and talk about anything concerning Pierce.
Montevirgen believes that across the entire campus anyone should feel comfortable providing feedback and input in terms of the direction that the college should be going in for the future.
“In the past there had been this feeling as if decisions were just made and was passed on down and people would have to live with it,” Montevirgen said. “I think what I’m trying to create is more of an environment where everyone has an opportunity to contribute and be a part of the campus and be a part of that decision making process.”
Associated Students Organization (ASO) President Vivian Yee said she liked the idea of the Coffee and Conversations with the President because it created a sense of community at Pierce.
Yee said Montevirgen inspires her to be the best leader she can be and aspires to be like him when she gets older.
“I think he’s just so cheerful and admirable and he’s really dedicated to this college,” Yee said. “I’ll see him at every Academic Senate meeting and every Pierce College Council meeting. He is always involved in the events. He’ll stop on the mall to go talk and check up on students. I think he’s a huge role model to me because he’s one of the youngest presidents.”
Dean of Student Engagement Juan Carlos Astorga also supports Montevirgen’s effort to increase transparency on campus through Coffee and Conversations with the President.
“That was a good opportunity to really get the pulse of the campus and to hear from folks on the ground, if you will.” Astorga said. “What’s really happening? What’s impacting them? What’s important to them? And really to invite feedback and conversation and create an opportunity to get to learn from others. That’s been a very valuable thing that he’s done for us.”
With the fall 2019 semester nearly behind him, Montevirgen believes he is prepared to focus on the spring semester and guide Pierce in the right direction.
“The next steps are to develop a path to move forward and to address the challenges that we face, but also the opportunities and how do we make sure that Pierce continues to be the community college of choice here in this area,” Montevirgen said.