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Faces of South - Student Profile

Kathie Pham: South Student Government Alum Takes on Access to Education at Seattle Public Schools

Pham

August 21, 2017

Over a decade after graduating from South Seattle College, 2005 alumna Kathie Pham can still picture the poster she read before stepping into her very first student government meeting.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

The quote, by anthropologist Margaret Mead, still resonates with Kathie today, as do the countless learning opportunities, leadership experiences and mentorships she developed as a student and staff member at South. Today, in her position as administrative assistant to the superintendent for Seattle Public Schools, Kathie says she continues to draw from the skills she refined on campus. Her educational journey however, begins as a 17-year-old Running Start student enrolled at South’s sister college, North Seattle College.

“I chose to take a social justice course with Dr. Wei Xiao at North,” says Kathie, “it was really the first time I found my voice in the classroom and the first time I felt passionate about addressing inequality in my community. That class really helped shape my life’s purpose, which is to serve and be a voice for the underrepresented.”

At the conclusion of the quarter, Dr. Xiao selected Kathie and four of her classmates to attend an upcoming social justice conference. But with an attendance fee of $150, Kathie had to scramble to find a way to fund her trip, without the help of her mother who had recently purchased a restaurant in West Seattle.

“At that time $150 felt more like a million dollars to me,” says Kathie, who transferred to South Seattle College when her family moved from Greenwood to West Seattle. “I reached out to South’s student government to see if they’d fund my trip. One month into becoming a student at South, I ended up presenting in front of the entire panel of student government leaders, and eventually my request was approved!”

Pham
Kathie Pham (front, second from right) attends the 2006 United States Student Association and Organization of Chinese Americans internship program in Washington, DC.

Feeling like she’d just won the lottery, Kathie recognized the impact student government leaders could have on her campus and in the surrounding communities. It was the impetus she needed to run for a position on South’s student government, the United Student Association.

“I was so excited and grateful to those leaders for believing in me,” says Kathie. “After that I thought to myself, if South’s student government can make that much of a difference in the life of just one student, think of what they can do to improve the lives of all students on campus.”  

That semester Kathie ran and was elected to serve as the Student Academic Success Chairperson, and during her tenure began advocating for student government-led initiatives that would benefit low-income, and first generation college students for years to come. Her first project was to implement the “Let's Do Lunch!: The Student Faculty Guest Meal Program,” which pairs students with their favorite instructors or advisors for a free lunch on campus. The program, still running today, is an effort to cultivate mentorships and improve communication between students and their instructors.

“They say that students stay in school when they connect with someone or feel like somebody cares about them,” says Kathie. “We wanted to give both students and faculty members the opportunity to meet together outside the classroom, where they can have an open dialogue about their experiences at South and their career goals.”

During her time at South, Kathie developed close relationships with faculty and staff across campus, including English instructor and mentor Bob Dela-Cruz. Kathie notes that her time in Dela-Cruz’s Asian American Studies course at South allowed her to explore race in a safe, inclusive environment. The class helped deepen her understanding of her identity as a first generation Vietnamese American.

“I’m so lucky to have had instructors that could relate to my experiences as an Asian American. Students want to see educators that look like them. It shows them that they too can become a professor, or a chef or mechanic because they see someone that looks just like them in those positions.”  

“South Seattle College is still my home to this day. It has become such a big part of who I am as a person and as a leader.”
- Kathie Pham

After graduating from South with her Associate of Arts degree with an emphasis in business, Kathie went on to study at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business to earn her B.A. in Business Administration, while also working part-time as the Student Club Center Coordinator at South.

Kathie has gone on to work in a variety of positions in education including becoming an undergraduate admissions advisor for DeVry University, program coordinator for the UW Professional & Continuing Education program and as a relocation planner for Seattle Public Schools Capitol Projects department. Though her positions are varied, Kathie says she still looks to the skills she developed at South, including program management and event planning.

“I’m grateful for South because I would not be the person I am today without my experiences there as a young adult,” says Kathie. “Mentors like Bob Dela-Cruz and many, many others saw something in me and helped me come into my own at South. I have to be thankful that the right leaders always showed up in my life.”

As the administrative assistant to the superintendent for Seattle Public Schools, Kathie now heads community engagement efforts across the district and sits on the Board of Trustees Scholarship Committee, continuing to provide access to educational opportunities to all students in Seattle, regardless of economic background and identity.

“South Seattle College is still my home to this day,” says Kathie. “It has become such a big part of who I am as a person and as a leader. As the city continues to grow and change, South is still a hidden gem for students of all backgrounds.”