The Western Sun

40 years of excellence

Andrew Kine, Staff Writer

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For 4 decades he has held up the light shining through the darkness of ignorance, but now this champion prepares to pass the lantern on.

“I feel very grateful and honored to have been able to spend most of my career at GWC,” began Golden West College President Wes Bryan, 7th to hold that office. “First as a faculty member and then in service as both a vice president and president.” For the first 22 years, Bryan was a speech communication professor, and to talk with him was to be drawn in by his words and ways, a call to learn as potent as the aroma of a favorite food. Last year, he announced his intent to retire, and the search for a new college president began as summer died, culminating in the climatic announcement of Tim McGrath in the first hours of a newborn spring.

For 5 years he was Vice President of Instruction, followed by 13 years of service to the college and community as president, much longer than the national average of 2 years, 8 months before a community college president leaves the job. And, like predecessor Kenneth Yglesias, Bryan was remarkable in having come up from within the Coast College system, rather than having been hired from the outside. While the extensive modernization and infrastructure upgrades of the campus may be what draws the eye of someone seeking Bryan’s legacy, he considers the people who he helped hire to be his true legacy and lasting gift to the community.

As an instructor in the classroom, he approached his subject in ways that a layman might not have expected. Take a class on public speaking and group dynamics. Rather than having the students come up with problems, he gave them a problem and had them come up with possible solutions, then vote on their favorite three. Grouping them based on those favorites, he set them on the subject of how to apply their chosen solution to real life. Which is reflected in one of his unfulfilled dreams, of having classes on applied mathematics at GWC, single courses teaching all of the math needed to deal with a specific, real life problem or application rather than teaching the broad scale, course by course method commonly used.

Other dreams that might have been include classes on invention, possibly akin to the new makerspace in the technology building, classes with a premise of “how does this work and how to make it better.” He suggested symposiums with three teachers, each from a different discipline, collectively teaching on a common subject from diverse viewpoints and approaches. He spoke of his daughter at the University of Santa Cruz, and a practice there of letting students design their own classes they wish to take, with two or three a semester getting the green light, funding, and then the students who would take the proposed course seeking out and hiring the teacher for it.

He has story after story of students who became part of his community of learners. One was of a man giving a presentation on motorcycle safety, with four props; a flimsy helmet, a sturdy helmet, a tarp and a watermelon. It came to a climax with the watermelon, representing the unprotected head of an unwise rider, falling onto the tarp from the height that head would have begun at in a crash. It went everywhere.

Bryan spoke of his views on teachers and the state of education in our state. Women and men who are here to teach, to expound, to open new vistas to thirsty minds not to do research and publish for funding. People whose enthusiasm for their subject is a passion shining through every facet of their world-view. Is it any wonder that all 5 of Bryan’s children attended Golden West? After all, while K-12 education is compulsory, college brings freedoms earlier grades lack, along with the feeling of a responsible adult in comparison with the enforced scheduling one had before. And the remainder of the quote above, “This is a wonderful college with excellent faculty, staff and students.”

He is a man with no regrets, for he does not live in the past. And, speaking of himself looking from the outside, Wes Bryan is “A curious person. He asks why and how questions a lot. He is a good listener, he is passionate about life, love, education and social justice. He wants people to succeed and believes that our primary purpose on the planet is to learn, grow, and be of service to others. He loves laughter, the beach and mountains, family and work at Golden West College. The people who work here, the students who go here, and the park-like setting of the campus. He is grateful for all the college has given us.”

“When I first became a new faculty member, I was so nervous about fitting in and doing a great job. Wes immediately made me feel comfortable and welcome on campus. When I first became a new faculty member, I was so nervous about fitting in and doing a great job. Wes immediately made me feel comfortable and welcome on campus.” said Natalie Koch of the math department. “During my first tenure review, which as everyone knows is scary and intimidating, Wes wrote me a long email about all of the things he was proud of me for. You would think that he would just send every new faculty member a generic email, but it was so personal and detailed. When I talked to my colleagues about it, they expressed that he did the same for them. I was so touched by him taking the time to do this for every new team member. I even sent the letter he wrote me to my Mom and all of my friends. It really empowered me and set me off to a great start at this campus. I will really miss him!”

What does he plan to do in his retirement? Well, he has a dragon’s hoard of half-read literature, with no real favorites. While he retains a fondness for Zorba the Greek, his interests in his books shifts and circles around; a tome might be of tremendous interest for a time, then set aside for other works until interest in it returns. In his retirement years, Bryan suggested, he might go through his library and finally finish reading and revisit so many fond memories.

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40 years of excellence