By Gavin Arucan | Staff Writer
Most KCC students have, at the very least, heard the name Louise Pagotto mentioned around campus. How could they not? She is the current Interim Chancellor of the community college, after all. However, one might wonder what that position might entail.
“The Chancellor is the chief executive officer of the institution,” said Pagotto. “There are duties and responsibilities that fall to the Chancellor for making final decisions about operations on the campus.”
The President of the University of Hawaiʻi, David Lassner, is the chief executive officer for the entire UH system, but when it comes down to the chain of command at KCC, Pagotto is at the very top.
“Lots of things come to the chancellor,” said Pagotto. “Things about budget, facilities, personnel, academic programs, and student services eventually all come to the Chancellor’s office. Fortunately, there is a team of individuals I get to work with. There are Vice Chancellors that assist by monitoring certain areas more closely and then deans who work with programs more specifically.”
Before Pagotto was appointed as Interim Chancellor in June 2016, she had spent her entire career in academics since the Fall of 1989.
“[The academic] part of the job was very familiar to me: curriculum and faculty and programs. But I had to learn a lot of stuff about the other aspects of the job I wasn’t familiar with,” Pagotto said.
Pagotto was initially hired in 1989 to teach English. At KCC, she taught English 22 and English 100, and she also taught English 22 at UH Mānoa.
“[UH Mānoa] had students that didn’t quite meet college-level English and they didn’t want to teach anything other than college-level because it wasn’t their mission. So, they asked Kapiʻolani to provide a faculty member to teach English 22 to teach some students,” Pagotto explained. “I taught mostly athletes that were bigger than me when they were sitting down. I also did some research at Mānoa on the success of the English program there.”
In 1996, Pagotto was hired as an interim assistant dean after there was a retirement in the administration. She became faculty again after the administration was reorganized, but was approached in 2000 to become an administrator again and has been ever since.
As Chancellor, Pagotto takes great pleasure in helping such intelligent people realize their great ideas. She also enjoys watching students succeed under new initiatives and programs.
“To me, watching the students growing and being so smart is ultimately very satisfying,” said Pagotto.
Pagotto is especially proud of many of the recent programs being implemented at KCC.
“Undergraduate research started at KCC a little while ago. We’ve made it possible for students to get credit for doing undergraduate research and for faculty to get compensated for undergraduate research. We have new programs for student support, like the Lunalilo Scholars, which was funded by a very generous donor, providing students with funding and human support to be successful in college,” said Pagotto. “There are programs going on in culinary, hospitality, and IT where they developed a third-year certificate so students can take 300-level courses and get on the road to a Bachelor’s degree at UH West Oʻahu.”
Even the cactus garden around campus reflects an inspirational dedication to Pagotto, who remembers when the garden was just a hillside of dirt and rocks.
“Out of that dirt and rock, students and faculty and staff together have created this garden. I think it is highly representative of the campus and the dedication to not just preservation of ancestral ways, but also the energy and generosity and dedication it takes to make things happen. Change is hard work, but as an institution, we must change because our students change,” said Pagotto.
As KCC looks towards the future, Pagotto and the rest of the administrative team prepares for an accreditation visit in the Fall of 2018. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, as well as the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), come to KCC every six years to make sure that the school is meeting certain standards.
There are four major areas that the college will be evaluated on: institutional integrity, academic programs, resources, and leadership. Among those four areas, there are over a hundred smaller standards that need to be met as well. Pagotto views this accreditation visit as a great opportunity for the KCC campus to evaluate itself.
Through all of this self-evaluation, Pagotto has found aspects of the college that are better than she expected them to be. For example, the Kekaulike Information and Service Center (KISC) is completely up to date on applications. Now, rather than taking weeks to send on acceptance letters, KISC is quickly sending out those letters on the day. Payday has also become more efficient, with no one being paid later than they are supposed to.
“I really want the campus to look at itself as a shining star,” Pagotto said. “We do so many good things and I really hope that the community of this campus sees the good and not just the warts. There are things to improve always, but we are a great school.”
“Some areas we need to improve on is being better able to demonstrate the way that planning and budgeting work together. We need to show the accrediting commission that when we make a decision about where we should spend our money, we make that decision based on some evidence,” said Pagotto. “We need to do a better job at making that observable. It happens on campus, but it’s hard to find a piece of paper documenting all of it.”
Pagotto’s hard work has not gone unnoticed by her peers. Brenda Ivelisse, the current Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at KCC, describes Pagotto as “dynamic,” “heartfelt,” and “a fiercely committed leader.”
“I work with Louise a lot. I would say that every week I’m connecting with her, but, on the daily, I’m constantly communicating with her,” said Ivelisse. “She’s really someone that’s engaged with what’s happening on campus and is wonderful to work with and to work for.”
To Ivelisse, Pagotto serves as a person who is always readily available to bounce ideas off of and communicate with.
“In my area, I oversee 16 different departments, so I make sure that she knows what is going on in all of my different areas so that we are moving the college forward together,” Ivelisse said.
With so much to prepare for because of the accreditation visit and the day-to-day work life, Pagotto has very little time to do things she loves such as reading, listening to music, and working out, but she does manage to fit it in her schedule when she can.
Earlier in her life, Pagotto traveled a lot as well and still enjoys to. While her parents were from Italy, she grew up and graduated with her Bachelor’s degree from the very small Marianopolis College. Eventually, she earned her Master’s degree at McGill University in Montreal after studying the Canadian Aboriginal language, Ojibwe, and came to Hawaiʻi for her doctoral degree. She had first fallen in love with the Pacific during a four-and-a-half-year stay in New Guinea starting in 1971.
From New Guinea, she made a long journey back home that took her from Australia to Istanbul. After seven and a half years of college at UH Mānoa, Pagotto found a job at Leeward Community College before finally settling down at KCC. Because of KCC’s strong international program, Pagotto is able to travel overseas to Asia.
Even with all the hard work to get through, KCC is still opening up great opportunities and creating learning experiences for Pagotto.
“I love this school,” Pagotto said. “Kapiʻolani Community College is just the best place to me as an educator. This is an institution where I felt, as a teacher, that I could try anything to make my work be satisfying and successful. There are professionals here who care deeply about students and about student’s learning, and, to me as a teacher, this was the best possible professional context. I hope that, as an administrator, I have been able to provide that kind of context for people.”