Visit Los Angeles Mission College and it’s likely that you’ll first notice plots of upturned soil, scatterings of orange cones and clusters of bungalows. Construction is ever present at the community college in Sylmar. During the next seven years, Mission will undergo an “extreme makeover” of sorts. A new physical education building and a new building for faculty offices are among the projects to be built on the campus. Overseeing the college during this transitional period will be new President Judith Valles, who stepped into her role in April. Finding its newest president took Mission a year-and-a-half. During that time, Ernest Moreno, head of East Los Angeles College, oversaw the school on an interim basis. But now that she’s here, veteran educator and administrator Valles is excited to head the college during such a transformative time. And there is little doubt about her ability to lead. The San Bernardino native has been in the field for five decades. She began her educational career as a fifth grade teacher and then worked as both an educator and administrator at San Bernardino Valley College for 25 years. Subsequently, she headed community colleges in Orange County. Not only is Valles excited about leading Mission College as the campus undergoes a transformation, she’s also excited to be president as enrollment at the college increases. “Our enrollment is close to 9,000,” Valles said. “We’ve grown by about 15 percent in the past two years. We’re projected to probably have 10,000 by fall. I think Mission College it’s been kind of a secret, (but) it’s leaking out. Students are becoming more aware of us. The buildings make a big difference, create a real college atmosphere.” Valles spoke further with the Business Journal about what she hopes to accomplish at the college, the challenges she faces and how her background will enable her to lead Mission in a new direction. Question: How did you come to be the new president of Mission? Answer: I was hired officially April 1 of this year. I was asked to apply and I did. I visited the campus, and I liked what I saw. I thought it was a wonderful opportunity. I had retired from other positions, but I still felt I had more to give. This opportunity was perfect for me. It’s a small campus. It’s growing. The enrollment is increasing. Q: What were you doing before you came to Mission? A: I was mayor of San Bernardino. I did that for eight years. Prior to that, I was a trustee for the San Bernardino Community College District. Prior to that, I was president of three colleges, two on an interim basis and one full time Golden West College in Huntington Beach. I retired from that in 1995. I started in 1988. I love being on college campuses, especially community colleges. We do a lot in helping students realize their dreams. That may sound corny, but I really believe that. Sometimes when all seems lost and doors seemed closed, an opportunity opens up at a community college. You see it in their eyes, when a student finally gets it. That’s what I love about this business. Q: What challenges do you think being the head of Mission will present? A: There’s always challenges everywhere you are. Major challenges here are all the building projects coming online, making sure that everybody feels part of the decision-making process. Culturally speaking, one of the things I noticed when I moved here is there really is no cultural center in this part of the Valley. With all of the buildings coming on line, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for this to be a gathering place. We have the physical education building that should be completed by spring of 2009. We have a child development studies center that should be coming on line this fall. Then, we have a media arts building that is scheduled to be built. We have a family and consumer studies building, which is where we will house the culinary arts program. That’s one of our shining stars. We have an outstanding culinary arts program. Right now, we’re redoing the Instructional Administration Building to create room for the faculty. There will be a new student services building and two education buildings. The history of this college is that it didn’t have any buildings. It was all in storefronts. The college started originally in ’75 with storefronts all over the city. It was a dream from the founding faculty to eventually have actual buildings. It’s going to be a pride of the Valley. Q: You mentioned the culinary arts program being the college’s shining star. In what other programs has Mission excelled? A: We have an outstanding child development program and our science program, especially our life sciences program, is really growing by leaps and bounds. We have a lot of partnerships and are in the process of developing certifications, especially with health care. We have a robotics program that’s kind of fun. Our art program will begin flourishing more because of the media arts program that’s coming online. Q: Not many community college presidents can say that they’ve served as a city mayor. How will your background in public service aid you as a college administrator? A: You learn so much at every job you have. Having been a mayor, I learned about ordinances, code enforcements. I know that this part of the Valley has been somewhat neglected by the city and the county. Many areas don’t have sidewalks. I see kids walking on dirt roads along the street. There should be sidewalks. That’s what my mayor’s eyes (notice). Everything helps to put things all in perspective. Anything we do that will have an impact on the neighbors I want to address. SNAPSHOT: Judith Valles Title: President, Los Angeles Mission College Age: 74 Education: Bachelor of Arts in English, University of Redlands; Master of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature, University of California, Riverside; Doctorate in Education, University of Redlands; post-doctoral work in administration and higher education with a community college focus, University of California, Los Angeles. Most Admired People: That’s my mother. She was widowed and still alive when I lost my (first) husband. From her I learned you can’t pin your hopes on anyone. My first husband and my husband now were also my kind of teachers. The first one made me believe in myself. My current husband helped me develop my self-confidence. Career Turning Point: That was when my first husband was killed (in 1969). All of sudden, you’re left with three children. You realize your happiness or your success you can’t expect someone else to make it happen for you. You have to make it happen yourself. So, I decided to get my master’s degree.