Patricia McKeown shines in first year as BTC president


In her 27 years at Bellingham Technical College, Patricia McKeown has been the dean of every department and been involved in the development or expansion of many of the college’s programs. So she was a natural choice to replace Thomas Eckert as president of the college in December 2010.

Her first year on the job was a busy one, with increased enrollment and shrinking financial support from the state. BTC lost 38 percent of its state funding over the past three years and may have to endure another 13 percent cut this year. But McKeown said she tries not to focus on bad news.

“I stay positive by thinking about our faculty and the amazing students who go through these programs,” she said. “We’re really making a difference in their lives.”

With the drop in state funding, McKeown has focused on bringing in grants to make up the difference. Of the current budget of about $18 million, $2.3 million of that is grant money.

“We used to get just a few state grants. Now we aggressively look for grants,” she said. “But you have to be careful with grants because they come with a lot of strings attached. So you have to make sure they line up with your mission.”

The college also relies on partnerships with public and private organizations. One such partnership with Bellingham-based aerospace company Heath Tecna, the Department of Commerce, the Northwest Economic Council and several other agencies was given the 2011 Governor’s Best Practices Award for Workforce and Economic Development.

The program started in the spring and put 380 new production employees for Heath Tecna through a two-week training course. The program was hailed as “a model of private and public investments that gets laid off workers back to work quickly and efficiently, helping local families and a local company thrive,” according to the award announcement.

These types of partnerships “are at the core of Bellingham Technical College,” McKeown said. “That is what makes this college as excellent as it is.”

The campus has also been a construction zone this year, with contractor Exxel Pacific building the new $30 million, LEED Silver Campus Center. The three-story, 72,000-square-foot building is scheduled to open this spring and will replace four small, aging buildings. It will house a library, auditorium, classroom space, and a kitchen and restaurant for the culinary program.

The next major construction project will be a new Northwest Center for Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences building along Whatcom Creek. The program has outgrown the dilapidated building, which is becoming unsafe as its foundation sinks, McKeown said.

“We’re very close to having all the funding for that project,” she said. “We’re in the design phase right now and hopefully we’ll break ground in June 2012 and finish in June 2013.”

Despite the challenges she’s faced this year as president of the college, McKeown said she is proud to be continuing BTC’s tradition of innovative and advanced training for the modern workforce.

“It’s been an honor to be in this position,” she said.

Bio: Patricia McKeown, president of Bellingham Technical College

Before becoming BTC’s president, McKeown served as the college’s vice president of instruction.

McKeown earned her doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Washington in 2002, and earned both her master’s and bachelor’s in education from Central Washington University.

She is also a board member on the Northwest Workforce Development Council, the Northwest Economic Council, and a member of the Manufacturing Institute Education Council, Sustainable Strategies Council and the Alcoa Community Advisory Board.

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