August 23, 2018 9:46 am

Dr. Darrell L. Cain, Ph.D., President, Pierce College Puyallup

Darrell L. Cain, Ph.D., president of Pierce College Puyallup, began work on July 22, relocating from Indianapolis, Ind., where he served as vice chancellor of student affairs at Ivy Tech Community College. Dr. Cain has worked in higher education for most of his career. He has spent the last 15 years in leadership roles at community and technical colleges around the country, while also teaching and authoring numerous articles. We sat down with him to find out more about our new president.


What attracted you to this position?

I was inclined to seek out this opportunity in part because this is a beautiful part of the country and I enjoy outdoor activities. Then, the more I looked into Pierce College, I realized it was a great institution. The college has been recognized with several national awards, which is very impressive.

As I got to know the Chancellor, some of the Board members and others, I thought, ‘This is a winning team.’ I believe if you want to be successful, you have to surround yourself with people who also have this same common vision and that’s what we have here. I’m elated by this opportunity.

Have you been to the Northwest before?

I’m new to the Northwest, although I have some friends in the area who told me this was a great place to live. I’ve spent time on the West Coast before. After high school, I lived with my aunt while attending Pasadena City College.

What do you think of the Northwest so far?

I love the proximity to the mountains, to snow and the ocean and Puget Sound. I’ve already been on trails at Mount Rainier National Park, and I loved it. My son and I went kayaking near Point Defiance Park and a sea lion popped his head up. That was cool. There’s so much to do here.

Tell us a bit about your family.

My wife, Nicole, is an elementary school teacher. She will be working in the Puyallup School District starting this fall. We always say, ‘I teach the big kids, she teaches the little kids.’ We have two children.

How did you get into higher education?

I was a first-generation college student raised in a single-parent home. I was not what anyone would have called ‘college material.’ I had no intention of going to college. I was driven to find work, to help my family out financially. My aunt made me an offer to come live with her in Pasadena, get a job and go to community college. I decided I would take one real estate class, but I didn’t really commit. I failed the practice real estate exam abysmally, so I told my aunt I was done with school. Then she said, ‘I guess you’re at a stage of life where you’re satisfied with mediocrity.’

I took that as a challenge. I accept it as a challenge when people or society say I can’t do something, so then I decide I will prove them wrong.

So I took an English class and this time, I found the secret formula for college success: prepare yourself (study), be committed, ask for help. I stayed in the library and visited the learning resource center for tutoring support for the skills I was lacking.

I went on to get my bachelor’s degree at Indiana University in sports marketing and management. That’s where I got involved in campus activities and leadership. After a short stint in business, I realized I wanted to be in college administration. I like being around colleges because everyone is motivated, and I find myself feeding off that energy. I got my master’s degree in administration at Ball State University on a full ride graduate assistantship. I still remember opening the letter, jumping up and down and being so excited. I never thought about earning a Ph.D., but again I was challenged and wanted to prove some individuals wrong. I was a recipient of a full-ride graduate assistantship at Virginia Tech University.

How do you want to contribute to Pierce College in your new role?

I bring particular strengths and skill sets. It begins with leadership, understanding how you can influence others. I truly believe in collaborating with others. I believe in being genuine, authentic. I’m a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person. I have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, meaning I’m aware of myself and my feelings and the feelings of others.

Listening is one of my leadership skills, which means I’m not doing all the talking. I want to hear from all the stakeholders and work to build consensus around a shared vision.

I also bring a technology skill set. My Ph.D. program included a minor in Instructional Technology. I learned how to enhance learning with tools and technology. The future is connecting students, faculty and staff with technology where it is appropriate to do so. I always tell students they need to know their learning style. For example, sometimes an online format is not the right one for people who learn best by interacting with others or through hands-on learning.

Will you also teach classes here?

Yes, I love teaching. Through teaching, I can connect with students and understand situations or barriers they may be facing that I can help resolve. It also helps me understand the faculty’s perspective. I plan to teach the College Success course. I love sharing my story to help inspire students to believe in themselves. I say, ‘If Darrell Cain can do this, from where I came from, then you can too.’ Maybe college isn’t for everyone, but you can still aspire to achieve your goals.

What do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy mountain biking, golfing, being outdoors and just exploring the area. I love sci-fi movies. My favorite movie of all time is “The Matrix.” I like to read, primarily books related to my work and specifically, leadership concepts and theories.

And finally, how did you learn to pronounce Puyallup?

My friend helped me before I came out here to interview. I also watched a YouTube video about Pierce College and heard how people pronounced both Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom.

Anything else you’ve learned about the Northwest?

Yes. Who knew there were so many different kinds of salmon? I’m still learning about that. I have learned more about the Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. We did not have many people of this ethnic origin in the Midwest. I did not know that many of the tribes are still in existence, which is a testament to their perseverance.