Ed.D. in Educational Administration & Leadership, 2009
School of Education
December 1, 2009
Youngest Dean of Student Services in California Community Colleges Promotes Student Success and College Access
Recent Ed.D. graduate Rick Rams is on a mission. Ask any of his former classmates, faculty, colleagues, or staff and they will tell you that Rick is passionate about everything he sets out to accomplish in life. As a student affairs professional, there is nothing more important to Rick than enhancing student success. In fact, while sitting in a UCI graduate seminar course in the summer of 2007, Rick came across a data set provided by his instructor that displayed the college going rates of African-American males in the UC system. He thought there was an error because the number was so low. The next morning, Rick contacted the UC System Office where they confirmed the grim reality, much to Rick’s dismay. From that moment forward, Rick’s dissertation research took on a whole new meaning, partially because Rick was mentoring several African-American students ata Cypress College. As Dean of Student Services, over the next two years, Rick explored the factors contributing to the success of African-American students attending community college.
I found it alarming that this group of students was becoming extinct and no one had really examined why. It was time to do a study that focused on success factors instead of departure factors of African-American students.
In most circles, Rick is often asked if he is a student because of his age. Rick notes, “Surprisingly, I am still able to walk into a room and have someone ask me what my major is instead of what college I work at.” However, the journey to a deanship at age 28 and an Ed.D. at age 31 was marked by several key events that shaped Rick’s values, attitudes, and beliefs about higher education.
After earning a B.A. in Political Science from UC Riverside, Rick moved to Lawrence, Kansas, to attend the University of Kansas in 2000. Rick established himself as an outstanding graduate student academically and ascended the student affairs ranks by serving as a graduate assistant, Financial Aid Counselor, and Assistant Director of Financial Aid at the university.
I had a powerful group of mentors who were well educated and cared deeply about their jobs. The staff and faculty of the university feel a deep personal commitment to the institution and its mission. People are connected to the community and the institution means everything. I still get the chills when I hear the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant – even get teary-eyed when I sing the alma mater.
Rick was a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas who returned home to Southern California to take a job in the Financial Aid Office at CSU San Marcos.
One of the key attributes of effective leaders is that they are able to take calculated risks in their lives. I abandoned the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. at one of the most prestigious schools of education in our nation and it was the best decision I ever made. Although the Ph.D. door momentarily closed, the opportunity to launch my management career and positively impact thousands of students instantly opened.
Rick later went on to serve as the Director of Financial Aid & Scholarships at Golden West College in Huntington Beach at age 25. Rick recalls,
My first management job was a rehabilitation of an office in crisis due to an abrupt management transition. There were compliance issues, union issues, lack of staff training, leadership problems, and most importantly a hoard of students in need of financial aid. Basically I earned a lifetime of experience in three short years rehabilitating that office. My ability to navigate a group out of rough waters was extremely satisfying. Our team was able to look back and say, “WOW! We have come a long way!”
Rick’s hard work and results did not go unnoticed in the financial aid community. He was elected as Vice-President of the California Community Colleges Student Financial Aid Administrators Association (CCCSFAAA) in 2005. The opportunity to serve the greater community sharpened Rick’s leadership skills and launched him on a path to broaden his opportunities in community college leadership.
In 2006, Rick was selected as Dean of Student Support Services at Cypress College. Today, Rick oversees a large staff and faculty, manages multimillion dollar budgets, and is responsible for outreach/recruitment, Financial Aid, Extended Opportunities Programs & Services, CARE, CalWORKs, TRAC, and Guardian Scholars programs. In his rookie year as dean, Rick co-chaired the first ever Student Services Master Plan and successfully led all 18 student services areas through their first cycle of Student Learning Outcomes development, culminating in a commendation by the California Community Colleges System Office in 2009.
The challenges persist for Rick as he continues to chair student learning outcomes development, leads the redesign of the Cypress College website, and serves as an accreditation standard chair for student services while managing his areas of responsibility. Rick comments that opportunities for advancement are coming his way in the form of vice president of student services positions. However, he reflects,
I still have goals to accomplish in my current role. I am blessed with a great staff and faculty who support me. I work for the best college president and executive vice president any dean could ask for. Plus, the North Orange County Community College District and Cypress College have first-rate facilities, great students, and a family-like feel. I won’t be taking this part of my career for granted.
On his journey as a leader and practitioner/scholar, Rick suggests that one of greatest values provided by his doctoral program was learning to ask critical questions that raise awareness or generate interest by those in decision-making roles. According to Rick, “My dissertation committee, particularly Dr. Anna Ortiz (CSU Long Beach) helped me become a better thinker and researcher. For their dedication to assisting me with my educational goals, I am grateful.”
When OC Metro magazine recognized Rick in 2007 in their article “40 Under 40: OC’s Most Successful Young Entrepreneurs and Executives,” Rick was humbled by the attention he received on his campus and from the community.
It was awkward getting phone calls from high school or college friends saying they read about me in a magazine. I just think that they wanted to verify it was actually me. However, I think that my fellow deans and colleagues at Cypress teasing me about a 40 over 40 club they could be recognized in was the best part.
Now that Dr. Rams is finished with school, he will continue to teach one 3-unit section of College Success on Tuesday evenings for new community college students. When not mentoring students or assisting them with their essay revisions, Rick enjoys travel and sports. Rick often travels to follow his Kansas Jayhawks football and basketball teams. Additionally, Rick coaches youth baseball and enjoys living at the beach in downtown Huntington Beach.
In the future, Rick hopes to serve in a significant leadership role such as a college president or chancellor. According to Rick,
We are in the midst of a growing and deepening leadership gap in our community colleges. The success of our students and their ability to achieve educational and life success will be contingent upon leaders who understand student needs and have the ability to make decisions that will positively support life-long learning.