My Hour with Dr. Hilgersom: Your Chance to Get to Know a Community College's Passionate Leader

My Hour with Dr. Hilgersom: Your Chance to Get to Know a Community College's Passionate Leader

By Valeria Saborio

TMCC’s President Dr. Karin Hilgersom is known for her charismatic personality and passion for student success. She has led the college since 2016, and I have personally worked with her since 2019 as vice president of the Student Government Association and as an International Peer Mentor for TMCC’s International Student Services. There is no doubt about Dr. Hilgersom’s innate leadership and amazing communication skills. Get to know more about her story, challenges, and perspectives on international students in this interview.

What is your favorite part about being the president of TMCC?

My favorite part is working with our students, faculty, and staff. The students at TMCC are highly motivated and involved on campus. What I have observed at TMCC since I got here are students who have a terrific work ethic and dedicated professors. I think that’s marvelous, and it has been my pleasure and honor to be a part of that. 

What has been your biggest challenge over the years as the leader of a large community?

I think the challenge is aligning the needs and the vision for the campus with all of the different stakeholders. Aligning the vision of what students, faculty, and staff want, as well as what the Board of Regents would like to see with TMCC’s future. Trying to align those vision ideals is always a challenge; it is very fun, however, to see how we have built our college over the years, so it is my job to try to align everyone’s ideals with our TMCC vision. 

What is your favorite part about having international students in our TMCC community?

There is a holistic picture where I think that without a global perspective, our college is incomplete. The global perspective is crucial to a college-educated person, so on a theoretical level, it is really important to me. And on another level, it has been so much fun to meet international students, to share their different cultural perspectives, and it has enriched the lives of domestic students, probably more in some ways than it enriches the lives of international students. So I think that just understanding reality through different cultural lenses is an enormous part of what it means to be an educated person. 

What does TMCC have to offer to international students that are unique?

We are small enough to provide a lot of care and attention to our students’ academic success and their program of study. We are also large enough to offer activities that are fun, and we create social connections, and I think that's very unique. On top of that, we are so close to beautiful Lake Tahoe, where our students enjoy the beautiful mountain setting with the gorgeous lake, as well as our city (i.e. Reno) and midtown growing as well. 

What have been some of your favorite experiences over the years with international students? 

I was a graduate student at the University of Oregon, and I was teaching a class as part of my teaching assistantship program. One of my students was from China. This class was for public speaking, and this was a hard class for this young man because English was not his first language. However, he was doing a very good job; he was getting an A in my class. He came to my office hours, and he said, “Dr. Hilgersom, I’d like to know how I can earn extra credit?” I replied, “You don’t need extra credit, you have an A.” It was his response that impressed me; he said, “Well but why be complacent? I want to learn as much as I can about public speaking in the United States.” It just made me think about that different cultural perspective, and it taught me so much about his work ethic. I wish I had his name, but this was many years ago. He was a really cool student. 

Another highpoint has been the BBQ parties that we have hosted at my house for our international students. I am so sad that we had to cancel this spring, but hopefully, we’ll bring it back as soon as we possibly can. The idea started when TMCC Vice President Estela Gutierrez was planning a picnic for international students, and I offered to have it at my house. Now it’s a yearly event, and I love it! Students graduating that semester receive their sash with their country’s flag engraved in it, and we commend their hard work; it is such a great experience for international students, faculty, and staff.

What is a trait you believe helps international students succeed? What is something you admire about international students? 

I really admire the courage of international students, and I think it's also the trait that helps them succeed by far. That courageous confidence to know that you can come to the United States, even though it might be challenging because of the language and cultural differences; however, at TMCC we will welcome you, embrace you and we will do our very best to help you succeed. I admire the courage students have to decide to come here, to figure out how to get the money to go to a different country, to put their entire selves into an unknown environment; it's admirable and so courageous! 

If you were an international student starting college, where would you like to go and what career would you choose?

I would go somewhere along the Mediterranean, Spain, Greece, or maybe Italy. I fell in love with my career and my discipline, which is communication studies, and it led me along my career path. However, if I were a young person today, I would want to make sure that I was fluent in a couple of languages. I think it would be fun to try to run my own company and do manufacturing, and I would choose to create something that people need; I would be looking for some way to solve a problem with a product and have a good understanding of international business to make that work. 

What is the best advice you could give to a student these days, especially with what we are going through? 

I would like to say: This too shall pass! I think what we have struggled with the most is the time that this situation has extended to and knowing that it might be over a year is a little unsettling. But remember that we will learn some good life lessons from this experience, and I do admire the resiliency of the TMCC community, and we just have to keep our chin up, wake up every day, and count our blessings. 

Valeria Saborio is from Costa Rica and is pursuing her Industrial and Systems Engineering degree at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.