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    Dr. Debra Thatcher, president of Umpqua Community College. Photo provided by Robynne Wilgus.

From music to education: Dr. Debra Thatcher’s journey to becoming UCC’s president

in I am UCC by

Dr. Debra Thatcher never expected to land into the position of a college president while in her studies as an undergraduate student.

“I never dreamed of being president of anything,” Thatcher said. A passion from her childhood, Thatcher initially intended to earn a degree in music at the private school she first attended.

“In elementary school, the big thing was that they went around to all the third and fourth graders and said, ‘we have all these instruments, which one would you like to try?’” Thatcher said. She first chose the flute and when eighth grade rolled around she decided to upgrade to the bassoon because the instrument sounded fun and was cool.

“Then I just fell in love with it,” Thatcher said. “I thought I was going to be a musician, that was my number one goal and all through school that’s what I spent my time working on, playing the bassoon. I was going to be a musician or a music teacher.”

While music continued to be a passion of hers, Thatcher’s interest changed multiple times before she would finally hit the bull’s eye in determining her end goal. She began her exploration in her undergraduate study by attending a community college followed by NC State where she studied botany and lastly the University of Wyoming.

“When I went to college I discovered I’d rather be out riding my bicycle than practicing six hours a day. I went through a series of changes and ultimately ended up in education and working with young children,” Thatcher said.

In between her undergraduate and graduate degree, Thatcher taught for a number of years in Wyoming, Alaska and the Marshall Islands overseas. Once in graduate school, a professor encouraged her to further her career in education and become a professor herself. But that was not the end of Thatcher’s journey.

“I was happy teaching. That’s all I thought I would ever do, is teach, and opportunities come along and someone says, ‘would you step up and do this?’ and next thing you know you’re climbing the ladder in administration,” Thatcher said.

From program coordinator to the director of education, she found herself in New York where she served as acting president that then led Thatcher into having the interest of becoming an actual president.

“This is a position to serve students, it’s to serve the community and it has nothing to do with me,” Thatcher said.

Thatcher began her presidency over UCC during the 2016 summer term and has now served for approximately eight months.

“I think this is an incredible community and I know that [Oct. 1] will always be part of what happened here, people will always be affected by it. But I think for most people, they are going to emerge from it stronger and wiser and probably more empathetic and helpful to other people who undergo whatever sorts of tragedies or traumas that may occur in their lives,” Thatcher said.

In describing her goals on campus, Thatcher explained her desire to help students succeed.

“I would love to see us be able to help more students meet their goals and for more students to come and finish their certificates or degree programs. It’s tough financially for a lot of students, but I think if we can provide the support necessary that more students will do that.”

‘Dialogue with Deb,’ a session where students, faculty and staff are able to talk with Dr. Thatcher, are held bi-weekly in the Bistro. Dates and times can be found through ‘A Week in Campus Life’ emails.

“College campuses are expected to do things probably better than any business or association in terms of communication, but it’s also the hardest thing to do. What I wanted to do was have one more opportunity for people to share things that they would like to see change at the college, ideas they may have and concerns they have,” Thatcher said.

Thatcher hopes to share her vision for UCC at these sessions as well.