City College president retiring

Elizabeth Carson

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Terrence Burgess says he’s anxious about retirement after 42 years of working in education.

Burgess started his career in education in 1971, teaching biology at Mater Dei High School. Although, teaching wasn’t always Burgess’ first choice in careers.

He originally went to college to become a fishery biologist. He got his first degree, a Bachelor of Arts in biological sciences, with his emphasis in marine ecology from California State University Fullerton.

Burgess got his first teaching job by applying for an ad in a newspaper. He had been driving a freight truck to put himself through school and decided to give teaching a try before applying for graduate school.

“By the time I finished my first year, I was hooked on teaching,” Burgess said, reflecting on that first year.

As he tells his story, he smiles and chuckles, acknowledging that becoming a fishery biologist was a bit of a longshot because there weren’t many jobs available in the field in the early 1970s. Instead, Burgess accidentally discovered his passion for education and says he has loved every minute of it.

Before he advanced to the administrative level, he spent almost half a decade teaching.

While he was working on his master’s degree, Burgess taught full-time at Fullerton High School, his second teaching job. In 1976 he was awarded with his Master of Arts in biological sciences, with emphasis in marine ecology, ichthyology and ethology.

During this year he also took two more part-time jobs on the collegiate level. He was an adjunct professor of ecology at Cerritos College and an adjunct professor of oceanography at Fullerton College, both from 1976 until 1977.

Burgess’ excitement about the world of education shows when he talks about his experiences in education, and his years of teaching and being an administrator.

In 1980, Burgess took his first job in administration as a program coordinator at Irvine Valley College. He continued to work in administration, and 21 years later, he became the president of San Diego City College.

“It’s a job I hugely enjoy. I look forward to coming here every day,” Burgess said of his position at City.

The job hasn’t always been easy, though. Burgess said that the budget cuts from 2008 to 2012 “have been the most devastating I have seen in my 39-year career in community colleges.”

He expressed how difficult it was to cut class schedules in order to keep the staff employed. It might have been hard to make the decisions, but members of the faculty have been grateful.

Before the budget cuts, two bonds were passed to help improve the campus, one in 2002 and the other in 2006. The bonds will provide almost $500 million in new construction and renovations, according to Burgess.

Beyond the improvements that have already been made, there are currently three projects under construction that should be finished by summer 2013. There are also five buildings scheduled to be renovated, all of which should to be done by summer 2015, according to Burgess. Beyond renovations, there is also a child development center that is currently in design and should be completed in spring 2019.

“It’s hard to be a leader during difficult times, but I think he’s been one,” said Laura Castañeda, chair of communications at City College and City faculty member for almost 10 years.

“Any college president that can laugh at themselves gets a pat on the back from me,” Castañeda said, referring to Burgess’ good nature. She also pointed out how personable Burgess has been, saying that he doesn’t let the suit and tie get in the way of being a people person.

This is a sentiment that Burgess himself said he thought was vital to anybody who serves as a president at City.

“Don’t take yourself to be so important —- all the folks that work here are important to City College,” was the advice Burgess said he would give to any president who serves after him.

His retirement this year comes one year before City celebrates its centennial. Although he considered staying, Burgess expressed that staying through the entire centennial was just too long for him. However, he hopes to be around and able to participate in the events.

Burgess also expressed that he hopes to keep teaching part-time at San Diego State University.

“What I will miss most about City College are the wonderful people that work here, and, of course, our fabulous students,” Burgess said, expressing how much he truly does care about the faculty and students. “Thank you for the wonderful honor, and for letting me serve.”

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