Frances L. White, Ph.D., came to the College of Marin in 2004 and is said to have turned it around from being on the state chancellor’s watch list and at risk of losing its accreditation to a financially well-managed and academically thriving institution. Enrollment has increased by 12 percent overall this past spring semester and 92 percent at the Indian Valley Campus since 2006. And while the college is known for its excellent medical (nursing, paramedicals) education, COM’s academic programs claim one of the highest transfer rates to UC Berkeley of any community college in California. According to Cathy Summa-Wolfe, of COM, White deserves much of the credit for the turnaround, including passing a $250 million facilities improvement bond; revitalizing the Indian Valley Campus through partnerships and programs; and launching a much-needed Basic Skills Initiative. White has also proven her affinity for green issues by creating a number of sustainable programs at the campus including signing the national Presidents Climate Commitment, which pledges to reduce the college’s carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by mid-century. Characteristically, she does not take all the credit. “Everybody should enjoy all the good things happening at COM,” she says. “I’ll only take credit for my part in improving the institution, but many faculty, staff and trustees deserve credit as well.” Her summer plans include a trip to Washington D.C., to confer with fellow community college board directors, a road trip with her husband, a Women in Business award from the North Bay Business Journal and sharing countless plates of local oysters with friends on the deck of the Sand Dollar restaurant in Stinson.
You could live anywhere. Why Marin? I grew up in the outskirts of Houston, Texas with lots of land, and since I hardly went downtown, I became used to the feeling of open space. Once I had the opportunity to work here (after living in urban settings) I happily took it. Marin does not remind me of Houston, but the open (green) space and beauty is very comforting.
What bothers you? The traffic on 101 and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
What do you value every day? I value life and making a difference by helping others.
What person has influenced you the most? My mother, who was a very beautiful, educated and talented woman.
Most fulfilling moment in your work? I love education because there are so many fulfilling moments from the first days of Kindergaten through college graduation. I am reminded of this every year at the annual commencement.
What’s your favorite book or album? Book: “In Search of Excellence”. Album: I like numerous styles of music including jazz, classical and gospel.
What’s your favorite place to unwind? In my garden or at the beach with my husband Harley.
Favorite Marin view? Mount Tam whether I am standing at the college, driving along Highway 101, or sitting in my gazebo, seeing the mountain makes me feel connected to nature and life.
What do you like about yourself? I appreciate nature’s beauty, and I look for beauty in people.
How do you want to be remembered? As a person who made a difference and who helped others.