How a world-class college bloomed in Bremerton

Under the leadership of David Mitchell, Olympic College grew into one of America's best two-year institutions.

It’s no surprise David Mitchell loves working in his Poulsbo garden, watching over his rhodies and roses. After all, nurturing Olympic College for more than 15 years was all about helping its three campuses grow.

During his tenure the college secured more than $150,000,000 in capital funds for projects that have transformed the Bremerton campus and added capacity at the Poulsbo and Shelton campuses.

Ask Mitchell about his interests (other than gardening) and you’re going to hear, “higher education.” Not surprising for a math teacher with a UW doctorate who expanded access to education for thousands of Washingtonians. Mitchell spent 22 years in the Seattle College District, including five as president of South Seattle College.

Mitchell, ’84, who retired in December 2017 after 42 years in higher education, led Olympic College to become the first community college in the nation to offer a bachelor of science program in nursing. Baccalaureate programs in computer information systems, organizational leadership and technical management soon followed. Mitchell fostered relationships with Washington State University and Western Washington University to make other degrees available through the college. He even worked to establish a brand new Olympic College campus in Poulsbo.

Other changes Mitchell brought include establishing the International Student Program complete with a residence hall. He also established an Office for Equity and Inclusion and hired Olympic College’s first vice president to oversee this important work.

During Mitchell’s time as president Olympic College garnered a top national honor. In 2015, the college was named a top ten finalist for the Aspen Prize, the top honor for community colleges in the U.S.

His work and effect on the community’s economic health hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2012, Mitchell received the Economic Development Champion Award from Kitsap Economic Development Alliance for Olympic College’s contributions to regional economic development. At any one time there are about 14,000 students working toward their educational goals at Olympic College.

Those high numbers are important to Washington state. Mitchell says 70 percent of jobs in the state now require some kind of post-high school educational credential. “It’s way beyond the number of citizens who hold that credential,” says Mitchell, adding: “The biggest challenge for higher education is that the financial business model for public education is not sustainable.”

What is Mitchell’s proudest accomplishment? “We’ve increased access to higher education for the citizens in this part of the state. There is more opportunity to higher education than when I got here. It’s really gratifying to see students complete programs that wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t opened up those opportunities.”

Mitchell says his UW education gave him the strong foundation he needed to be a leader in higher education. He isn’t the only Mitchell to wear the purple and gold. His two children both graduated from the UW. One earned a doctorate in biochemistry and teaches at Bellevue College and one is a Foster School graduate who played in the Husky Marching band.

Retirement will be a novel experience. Mitchell has worked since age nine when he had a paper route delivering the Los Angeles Times.

Mitchell will likely put his green thumb to work again in higher education. The passion he has to watch people bloom from learning won’t disappear just because he’s no longer a college president. “I hope to live a life of service. I’ll see where I can help.”