As 2018 winds down, so does the illustrious story of our current leader of Windward Community College, Chancellor Douglas Dykstra, as he is set to retire at the end of this year.
Dykstra took over as chancellor of WCC in July 2009, coming from Hawai’i Community College on the Big Island where he was vice chancellor for academic affairs. For the last nine years, he has faithfully served as WCC’s chancellor and helped the college grow and become one of the premier campuses in the University of Hawai’i system.
I met Chancellor Dykstra one afternoon as I was walking the perimeter of campus with my dog. He happened to be walking just behind me, and as my dog stopped to smell a fire hydrant he caught up to me.
Not knowing who he was, I exchanged pleasantries and introduced myself. Being an older student, he mistook me for a member of the faculty as he had seen me on campus many times.
I asked who he was, and he said “I kind of run this place.”
I replied, “Well you’re doing an excellent job of that!”
And so began my everlasting friendship with him. I sensed something very special about him and after attending WCC for five semesters, I now know why I felt that.
He has the very personable characteristic of being funny and friendly but with forthright intentions. I describe him as a gentleman giant as he stands 6 feet 4 inches and is always smiling and conversing with all on campus.
Dykstra was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., and grew up in New York where his father was a professor of linguistics at Columbia University. His family lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, from 1958 to 1960 as part of an international cooperation agency arm of the U.S. government to prepare Afghan college students to come to the U.S. for their advanced degrees.
At the age of ten, Dykstra got a real feeling for what it was like to be “the ugly American” in a sense that he and his family’s prosperity really set them apart from the Afghans. Having the things that we so often take for granted in a third world country became very clear to him. However, he made friends with a lot of local kids who taught him how to make and fly kites, which is a popular sport there. He reminisces about his younger days whenever he watches The Kite Runner, a movie about two boys growing up in Afghanistan.
After returning to the U.S., Dykstra was inspired to become an educator having seen his father’s political interactions with colleagues and learning that some of his father’s students went on to become national leaders of Afghanistan. Subsequently, the Dykstra family moved to Hawai‘i as his father took a position in the communications department at the University of Hawai’i and bought a parcel of land in Kahalu’u.
At the time, Dykstra had just graduated from Kent State University with a master’s degree in history. He helped his dad build their home on the Windward side and pursued a second master’s degree in education at UH Mānoa.
He began his teaching career as a lecturer in history at Leeward Community College, as well as brief stints at Kapi‘olani, Honolulu, Windward and the College of Continuing Education and Community Services at UH Mānoa.
After eleven years as a lecturer, Leeward CC gave him his chance as an instructor and later as an assistant professor of history. He gained tenure in 1991 and worked as a department chair for arts and humanities there. He became a grant writer at Leeward and after securing several grants, the opportunity opened up in the lower levels of administration as an assistant dean, which gave him the foundation of how to do bigger things.
Chancellor Rockne Freitas at Hawai‘i Community College gave Dykstra his first big promotion to the position of vice chancellor at Hawai‘i CC from 2004 to 2009.
Dykstra said, “I have always appreciated my profession because there are two ways you can go once you get tenure. One way would be is, ʻI got a guaranteed job; let me slide.’ The other way you can go is, ʻI got a guaranteed job, so let me experiment ‘cause if I fail, I can always go back to what I know I do very well, which is teaching.’”
Dykstra was recognized as an outstanding educator by the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
In July 2009, Dykstra applied for the position of WCC chancellor. Little did the faculty and students of WCC know the gem of a person who was about to take the reigns of the college.
Dorene Niibu, Dyksta’s secretary of eight years, said, “Doug is a very passionate person with a heart of gold. He gets choked up very easily and will start to shed tears, and I just tell him, ‘Cut it!’”
Kahea Tani, secretary for the vice chancellor for administrative services, agreed, “He is definitely a softie. He has his moments. He has a Hawaiian heart!”
She added, “Doug can also be a lion. He has a good balance as he can be tough when he has to be.”
Niibu shared that Dykstra’s forthright nature was evident when WCC was sanctioned during the college’s 2012 accreditation process and he wrote a 20+ page response, which resulted in the college receiving a commendation instead. She said he was committed to standing up for what WCC had accomplished.
Dykstra has also been embraced by students and faculty.
Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i (ASUH)-WCC president Bernadette Rose Garrett said, “If you walk into any room or even if he comes to a meeting, it’s always his big smile and his happy, friendly personality that makes you feel included. He’s the glue that holds everyone together. He always, always asks, ‘How are you doing?’ and generally wants to make sure everyone is all right.”
ASUH-WCC senator Alakaʻi Pang-Kee Shimabukuro said, “Chancellor Dykstra is very open to us and likes to listen to our opinions. He likes to get to know us more and wants to know the students’ perspectives on how things are going on campus and what students are going through.”
Speech instructor Audrey Badua shared, “He always referred to me as ‘kid’ and would always say, ‘Good job kid!’ He always made me feel like I was accomplishing something.”
A constant supporter of all things WCC, Dykstra can be seen at the college’s many events, performances and programs. Workforce development coordinator and overseer of the food programs at WCC Charlene Akina knows Dykstra’s go-to lunch selections.
“He likes cheeseburger with mushrooms and beef barley soup,” she said. “We also named a catering menu in his honor calling it the Chancellor’s Menu with some of his favorites, which include kalua pig and cabbage, a vegetarian option, red curry stew, hapa rice and basil peanut coleslaw.”
WCC head librarian Sarah Gilman Sur said, “Doug has always been gracious, welcoming and thoughtful to students, staff and faculty alike. He has been a true ambassador for our college and for the surrounding communities that the college services.”
Office assistant of student services Aileen Salvador said it in two words, “Thank you!”
Vice chancellor for academic affairs Ardis Eschenberg, who has been selected as the new chancellor starting in January 2019, had a lot to say about her predecessor.
“Doug has been an amazing supervisor and mentor to me,” Eschenberg said. “He allows us to grow our skills and our ideas, providing advice and support. Doug is unafraid. He bases decisions on what best serves our college and promotes student success, never on what is easiest. Doug is kind. He shares in our joys and our grief. Doug is so intelligent. Not only is his vocabulary vast, but I have never seen a concept he cannot master or a problem he cannot analyze. Doug is a team-builder. He lets each member shine so that the whole group can be radiant. Doug is humble. He gives credit to others and shares his spotlight. Doug is a hard worker. He stayed the course through our last accreditation report when he could have retired. Doug is a leader. He has made each of us better by working together.”
She ended by saying, “Thank you, Doug Dykstra, for your service to WCC. I wish I had nine more years of service under your leadership but am happy for you to have time to do things you enjoy and be with those you love. Your love has made each of us and this institution better!”
Dykstra said he has several plans for his retirement.
“I want to do more swimming,” he said. “I also want to read a stack of books that are by my choice and have nothing to do with reports or research. I will also be traveling to Hong Kong where my wife lives and spending more time with her.”
I know I speak on behalf of many at WCC when I bid Chancellor Doug Dykstra a fond aloha and farewell and wish him happiness and relaxation in retirement for a job well done.
by Ian Jenss, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter