Presidential Finalist Melinda Nish

By John Ostgarden|May 23, 2016News|

In addition to her extensive instructional and administrative experience, as well as her educational background reported by Jim Hill, Ms. Nish has had a complicated and controversial tenure as superintendent/president at Southwestern College (SWC), in Chula Vista, CA.

As reported in the college’s student newspaper, The Sun, Ms. Nish was a finalist for president at Santa Barbara City College, and was previously a finalist in February for chancellor at North Orange County Community College District in Anaheim, CA.

Ms. Nish’s time as Superintendent/President at Southwestern College (SWC), has not been easy. The Sun reported, “Nish stepped into a bubbling cauldron in January 2012. Just after Christmas 2011 the San Diego County District Attorney and armed marshals raided the homes of several former SWC administrators and board members. All eventually pleaded guilty to felonies and misdemeanors related to what D. A. Bonnie Damanis called ‘San Diego County’s largest corruption scandal ever.'” Nish provided some stability at SWCC, as there had been 10 Presidents in the 9 years prior to her arrival. SWCC Board member Tim Nader said “If you compare the college now to where it was five years ago, there is no comparison. We are way better off.”

Additionally, The Sun has reported on controversial situations related to a recent accreditation warning for 15 areas of deficiency during Nish’s tenure, and statements made related to SWC’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee that led to the hiring of a consulting company “to mediate a controversy that has divided scores of campus employees along racial lines.”

The Bridge: Please describe a time you made a difference to a student.

Nish: My educational career began as a faculty member teaching economics. I’ve had a number of students who told me that they changed their major to economics after taking a course with me. The first student I recall telling me that was a student from Mexico studying at the college I was teaching at in Switzerland. This student told me that he was inspired by my enthusiasm and loved learning with me. (He ended up taking every class I taught!) Just last year, I met up with a former student who told me that I was the only instructor she ever had that had helped her understand business math. She told me it was the way I was able to break down the concepts and explain things – and caring about students understanding these concepts – that made the difference for her.

About a month ago, one of our student government leaders told me that I was her role model as a leader and that she wanted me to know how much I had inspired her. I must have looked surprised because she then told me that is was in the monthly student relations committee meetings where I meet with the student leaders, and in all the student events that I attend, that had led to making this difference. As a CEO, you don’t get to be in the classroom each day, so I was very humbled to know that trying to do my work in the most “students first” manner I can had actually made a difference to her.

Nish: The student newspaper is a vital part of the learning experience as a college student, and not just for the journalism majors. The student newspaper has a role to play that influences the entire college community. The student newspaper should be seen as a valued source of relevant information that first and foremost is of the students and for the students. I have a strong commitment to First Amendment rights and believe the student newspaper needs to be allowed to express any and all opinions and should strive to report in a fair and balanced manner. As a college CEO, I am always available to our student reporters and have deliberately modeled and encouraged others to help our student journalists have access to our opinions, experience and expertise. A good student newspaper brings information, facts, opinions, and humor to the college as a whole.

The Bridge: Please tell our students something about yourself as a person that isn’t in your official biography.

Nish: I am the oldest of six children, and the first in my family to be awarded a college
degree. I know what first-generation college students face, first hand, and I know what a challenge college can be. I have encouraged all of my siblings to value education, and all of them have attended college – among us we have an EdD, a JD, three masters degrees and one bachelors. A fun fact that you will not find on my resume is that I am an avid warm water scuba diver, and I love to explore new places and cultures. And finally, my best friend has been my best friend since I was 15 years old.

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