Editors Note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. It is not verbatim.
With a background in the Aerospace and Defense Industry, Kartik Raju has handled multi-million dollar budgets and uses the skills gained from that to manage Palomar College’s fiscal standing. He is endorsed by the Palomar Faculty Federation (PFF) and seeks to provide Palomar College with fiscal and enrollment stability. Candidate Kartik Raju is also an advocate of college diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and is running to keep his term on Palomar Governing Board District 4 (Valley Center, Ramona, Hidden Meadows, and Poway).
The Telescope: Tell us a little about yourself and what was the last book you read?
Kartik Raju: Well, I was born in Chicago, I grew up in Kentucky, and went to school in Ohio. I graduated with my electrical engineering degree. I came out to LA to do film production for a little while and then decided Hollywood was a little different than what I was expecting. So, I decided to pursue my engineering career and I did that in San Diego with some friends that I had met in college. I did that with defense, so I worked in software, program management, and things like that for a long time.
Right now, I’m working for an educational platform, as a technical product manager. So that’s been a lot of fun. I do music production on the side. I have two little kids at home that continually challenge everything that I thought was, was safe and I could assume. The last book I read was “Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents” by Isabelle Wilkerson.
The Telescope: Who or what are your influences?
Kartik Raju: Well I‘d say, primarily we’re all influenced by our families a lot right, and I’m no different. My parents instilled in my brother and me, a deep cornerstone of our upbringing, was education and service in our family. So those are key portions.
But a lot of my influence from a power-mark perspective comes from not only the community, whether it be my immediate family and community that are affected by what we do here, but also the students, faculty, and staff. Really, everybody that Palomar touches in so many in a positive way. So I really try to look to them to influence me and how we can best support our community.
The Telescope: Why are you running for Palomar governing board?
Kartik Raju: Well, I think education is just so important for our individual and shared futures in so many ways. And I really want to help support Palomar in being able to provide the resources and opportunities that we need for our students, faculty, and staff. To make it so that they can control their own destiny and see their futures the way they want to see them without being saddled with tons of student loan debt. That’s really the main reason, and to support the community.
Quite frankly, I think that education has been something we in the past in the United States have taken for granted for a long time. Like in thinking that it’ll always be there and the resources can just stay and will continue. But you really have to put time into it. You have to put resources into it, and that’s the only way it’ll stay at the level of excellence that we all sort of assume and come to expect from our education system.
The Telescope: What skills and experiences do you have that will make you a good governing board leader?
Kartik Raju: Well I’d say, I was appointed back in October 2021 and it’s been a great 11 months. I was able to sort of hit the ground running and it’s a steep learning curve, I’ll be honest. But, it’s something that I think I really took on. I’ve been able to craft relationships with faculty, staff, and the administration really well. And I think in the past 11 months, we’ve really seen a lot of great successes and I’m so proud to be a part of some of those.
Fiscally, we’re in the black right now, which previously we had a fiscal monitor. We don’t have that. That’s really great. Accreditation’s a huge boon for the university. And we’ve been more focused on student success, also parity with part-time faculty. Those are all huge wins that I want to see continue and be expanded upon in the future.
As far as my skills go, I think that I’ve sort of proven that community college leadership is a big part, but also my history, working in defense with complex programs. I’ve had multimillion-dollar budgets that all have been different. The government’s no different in different areas. There are different little pieces of money that you can use for certain things, but you can’t use for other things or that expire here or there. Those are all little nuances that really take an experienced diet to use effectively, and to understand and to make sure that we’re following the straight and narrow. Fiscal stability, I think is one of the key points that really Palomar’s future hinges upon in being successful. So that is one of my main priorities.
The Telescope: Bouncing back to your schooling, did you attend a community college?
Kartik Raju: I did, I did. I actually went to Miramar College for electronic music production and computer music. It was actually kind of funny. I sort of was doing self-study for a while and, you know, I’m fairly technical. I can understand these things pretty well, so I thought I was beyond what those classes would be able to provide. I thought I had it figured out, but I went and took them anyway and man, it really jump-started everything for me. Like, I was so sad I didn’t take it sooner. I would’ve saved myself probably like three years of twiddling around with different things. But it really helped me understand better what community colleges provide. Because, coming from my background, not only was I from a different state but from the A.A.P.I. sort of cultural direction, for lack of a better term. But in my family as well, community colleges aren’t really the way we see them here. They weren’t really a thing, right?
So that lack of understanding, of what the community college really provided was sort of an eye-opening experience when I took the class. It’s really different. So, I had no idea it was there. And then when I realized, I was like, “Wow!” All these resources are here, and I can go to them, and I don’t have to – for one, I don’t have to drive all the way down to like UCSD; for what I would pay for parking, I could get a class. That was amazing to me. And, it was still one of my favorite experiences that I’ve had, and really pushed me forward. So, that’s some of my community college experience.
The Telescope: What is one thing you like about Palomar and one thing that you would want to change?
Kartik Raju: Well, I would say I haven’t seen a more engaged and better community than I have seen at Palomar. Everywhere from the students, the faculty, the staff, the administration, every single person, and the board. Every single person cares deeply about the success of the school, not just short-term, but really the longevity of the success of the institution. And really serving our students and ensuring they’re getting everything they need to be successful. Resources, like getting more face-to-face classes, to additional resources and buildings and facilities. It’s an incredible place and I’m so proud to be a part of it. That’s something that just really sticks out in my mind ahead of everything else. I think that really helps push us forward.
And one thing I would like to change is, I recently went to Camp Pendleton as I mentioned in the board meeting yesterday a little bit, and I saw firsthand a little bit more of what our enrollment process is like and man, that’s got to be easier. I think we really need to make that something that can really be student-centered. If our enrollment process isn’t student focused and doesn’t make it easy for the student and doesn’t seem like it’s meeting their needs, I struggle to imagine how they can get past that. To think that all the other resources we have really do, I think we’ve done a lot of the hard part, which is having all the programs and a lot of the resources that can really serve the community. We just have to get them past that step of enrolling. So that’s a key piece that keeps sticking out in my mind of something I’d like to change.
The Telescope: What are some of your short-term and long-term goals, both personally and at Palomar?
Kartik Raju: Well, let’s see. I’ll start with the Palomar piece first and then I’ll go to the personal bit in a minute. For Palomar specifically, I said enrollment. So, there are a lot of short-term things that we do with enrollment that I think are key. Fiscal stability also, I think is something that we need to look at in the short term. I’d also like to see a little bit more outreach, really engaging with our community members those are some of the main things.
From a long-term perspective, I would say that making sure that financially, we’re really solid, I think is so important to helping enable us to do so many things that we want to do. Expanding the centers to have better resources and more resources. And then student housing is something that’s come up before and I think it’s really key that we look at student housing. It’s critical, especially in our city and county and district with how expensive it is to live here. I think it’s so important that we provide something that’s affordable, but also sustainable so that we can keep providing the resources and educational excellence that we’ve been able to provide so far.
Personally speaking, I’d like to get involved and attend as many events as I can. This past year has been a little busy with the election and everything else. But I think I’d like to attend more of the graduation ceremonies. I’d like to be more involved with some of the events that the DRC is holding and really start to get exposed to more of the Palomar community more often. I tend to engage at least once a week with students, faculty, and staff, on campus. Like I said, going to Camp Pendleton or Poway Middle College unveiling or something like that. And they’re good, but I’d like to do a few more things on campus if possible.
The Telescope: What are some resources that you think students are currently lacking and how would you make those available?
Kartik Raju: Well, I think it’s going to seem like a simple thing, and I don’t know if it’s the first thing, but it’s the first thing on my mind: food on campus. I remember studying for hours and I mean hours; we’d have five-hour study sessions in the library when I was in college with a group of friends. And I’ll tell you what, the minute we all got hungry if we didn’t have food available, there was about a 30% chance we were going to say, “well, we’ll study the rest at home,” You can’t do that, it just breaks that momentum. I really feel like those basic needs and meeting those can really help people succeed. Even though it doesn’t sometimes come to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Also, I’d say, the enrollment process, honestly, having more people available to help students enroll. Outreach too, and having those resources. If they’re not fluent in English or they have English as a second language or if they don’t speak English, those are really key. Having signage on campus that shows people where to go in different languages potentially. Those are some resources I would say we maybe need.
And this isn’t as much a resource, but maybe something that maybe needs to be a little different but, flexibility maybe with some scheduling. Because we have a lot of students that work full-time and to be able to take a course, and have the flexibility to go to work full-time, but also be able to take all the classes they want to take; I think is key and important.
The Telescope: Have you spoken to the faculty about the merits and concerns of AB1705? And what perspective did you gain?
Kartik Raju: I have, I would say more measures are good, right? Having more measures, I think gives a better perspective on what the student needs. However, I would say that we need to be sure that we still continue to teach the basic skills that, you know, students may require. And, also keep in mind that there could be a population of students, and I don’t want to say a small population, I’m not totally sure, but it could be sizable, that aren’t necessarily covered by some of the provisions that are in AB1705. They might need more measures to really ascertain where they adequately fit. I think that we want to get students, and that’s the goal, to get students through those transferable Math and English courses as quickly as possible.
But I think we really need to ensure that veterans with disabilities or any students with disabilities, or if somebody went to high school and then worked for a long time, and now has decided that they want to do something else. That those measures that we look at from the high school perspective, have other measures that are added to it that can really reflect the student as a whole.
The Telescope: How often do you visit campus and interact directly with staff and students?
Kartik Raju: I’d say at a minimum of once a week, usually. Sometimes it’s a little bit more and sometimes it’s a little, I wouldn’t say it’s really less, but it’s pretty much about once a week. I try to stay fairly engaged because it’s fun, right? I mean, I really enjoy it. And there’s a lot of energy that you get from a bustling campus and people working and doing things, and it’s…I don’t know, it’s hard to describe, but Palomar is a really special place.
So, I try to be here at least once a week. I also think it’s really important to get an idea of, what’s happening on the ground, so to speak. So, as much as before things get up to me, they can be filtered and things like that and whatnot, but getting an idea and a perspective of what students, faculty, and staff are actually going through at the time I think are really key.
The Telescope: In what ways do you plan on boosting enrollment and making it a smoother process?
Kartik Raju: Well, I think first, there’s the technology, right? I think that’s an easy one and a lot of people know that. But more than that, I think there’s also having people available actively to help that students can reach more readily. I think expanding our outreach to our centers and different areas. You know, reaching out to students who may have dropped off after because the past two years have been really hectic for them. And Covid may have affected them in really different ways, but reaching out to them and trying to see what we could do to make that easier for them to re-enroll and finish what their goals are.
I also think that there’s a lot of advantages to looking into credit for prior learning. People may not realize what they’ve already achieved and how much or how little there is to go before they can get the certificate they need or maybe even multiple certificates so that they can move forward with a career choice that they have. So those are just some of the things. I think there’s, there’s a lot of things that we can do. And looking at it holistically with administration and my other board members I think is key as well as for students, faculty, and staff. But those are just a few.
The Telescope: If you get elected to be on the governing board, where do you want to see Palomar in four years and how would you want to get us there?
Kartik Raju: In four years, I really hope to see Palomar have affordable student housing. I hope to see Palomar’s enrollment be at levels that we’ve seen in the past, and really try to bounce back from what the past two years have done to every community college. And really see our centers expand to serve the communities that they’re in more directly because I think there’s a lot of advantages in Palomar looking towards the future, and I think we do have advantages for what careers our students are going to need and what those focuses are going to be.
There are also skills that students need right now in their communities and I think being able to provide those and having the resources so that those communities can look to those centers as those key places of education are a big part of it. And I think the way to do that is really, and I’ve been harping out the whole time, but it’s financial stability. Making sure that our finances are good to go so we can put those resources in without, having to make some of those really hard decisions. I think that’s really key. And so hopefully having, an experienced board member like that, and what I can provide will help with that.
The Telescope: You spoke earlier about implementing student housing, do you have conceptually a timeframe you would like to see those possibilities explored? How would you help with that?
Kartik Raju: Well, I know we have a planning grant right now, and it’s actually, I think the biggest a community college has gotten in San Diego County. It’s about $800,000. So, we’re really looking to see, I’m really looking to see what that plan can provide and really how that branches out. I think there’s a lot to consider with how affordable housing is instituted. So I’m a little flexible from a timeline standpoint. I would say that just because I want to make sure we do it right. Because it’s not only just having the affordable part of affordable housing. And I think that’s a really key point that I want to make sure we don’t forget. But I think providing services like mental health, and physical health 24 hours because we’re going to have people on campus 24 hours. And then considering that it’s not just going to necessarily be just students, but also their dependents, maybe family members, things like that, that we’re going to have to take into account. Also public safety, those are all things that we’re going to have to adjust, and really make that part of that sustainable model that housing is supposed to achieve.
I’m a little hesitant at putting a specific timeline because I don’t want to pigeonhole anything into rushing anything. But as to what my expectations are; I do want to see it sooner rather than later. I would say I hope to see that plan… I think that plan will hopefully it’ll be done in the next year or so. And to really be able to see what our options are, what we can branch out to, and what that solution really looks like.
The Telescope: We really appreciate you coming today, so before we wrap this up, is there anything else we should know about you?
Kartik Raju: Well, I wanted to thank you all for having me, I really appreciate it. I really love supporting our community. You know, I have two daughters, they’re six and seven, and I don’t want their lives and their dreams to be held back by crippling debt, frankly. I want them to be able to achieve what they want to achieve, and I want them to be able to have the time to go try things out. And to be able to explore who they are and what they believe in the future. Sometimes you got to figure out who you are and try some things, see how that works or it doesn’t work. That’s an opportunity I feel like I would’ve really taken in my first year of college. And I want to make sure that they can have that. As well as anybody in the community to have the opportunity to do that and get a handle on their future without being held back for years.
With that, the opportunity cost for doing that is so vast that I’m just, I’m so excited for what Palomar provides and has. I guess I’d just say that I’m just incredibly excited and honored to be part of the board now, and I hope to serve for many years in the future.
Editor’s Note: In a previous draft of this story, minor errors were left in the transcribed interview. These mistakes have been rectified. The Telescope regrets the error.
- Kartik Raju 2022: Ryan Marlowe/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved