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COVID-19 vaccine an important tool to get more college students back on campus.

Pierce College’s student body reflects its diverse community, with campuses in both Lakewood and Puyallup and an education center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Chancellor Michele Johnson knows the community well. She was born and raised in Tacoma and has worked at the Pierce College for 43 years.

“Fifty-two percent of our students are Black, Indigenous, Latinx and from other communities that are marginalized,” she said. “Sixty-four percent of our students are the first person in their families to go to college. Forty percent receive some form of financial aid.”

Pierce College is committed to building an antiracist institution. Helping those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is critical to the school’s mission.

“COVID impacted some of our students who are marginalized,” Johnson said. “We know communities of color have a higher dropout rate since the pandemic began. And we have a higher percentage of students over the age of 40 not returning, so that is contrary to the very students we are trying to reach.”

Chancellor Johnson is confident COVID-19 vaccine will help get students back into classrooms. So is the state, which recently provided funds for 10 scholarships at each branch of $1,000 each for students who initiated vaccination.

Michele Johnson Trusted Messenger

‘Getting vaccinated just made sense.’

Johnson admits she’s not a fan of getting shots.

“I’ve always been a little nervous about immunizations,” she said. “I have to admit that I’ve never had a flu shot, but when I thought about COVID and had the opportunity to get vaccinated, I knew that it was important.”

As an educator, she encourages people to do a little homework. She read up on the virus and asked her own doctor about the vaccines.

“I believe in science, and because I’ve had some personal reactions to medications in the past, I talked to my provider,” she said. “Getting vaccinated just made sense. It’s true people die from the flu, but not nearly to the extent of COVID—nor does the flu spread as easily.”

Challenges met.

Johnson saw the impact COVID-19 had on Pierce College, how it created obstacles unlike she had seen in any of her four decades at the school.

The college pivoted to online learning as quickly as possible, but it wasn’t easy.

“Taking 3,000 sections of 900 courses and getting those converted to an online environment—our faculty did amazing work around that,” Johnson said. “Getting students to make that change, too, that was all part of it.”

The college’s response meant helping students wherever and whenever they could.

“We gave out lots of laptops and chrome books and hotspots, but other challenges include helping people living in areas where there is little or no broadband,” Johnson said. “Some may have children who are in school, and they have to share that same broadband. Single parents are a population that we know are underachieving. These are just some of the gaps we are trying to close.”

Bustling hallways around the corner.

Pierce College welcomed some students back to campus this spring and summer, and the college is planning to offer more face-to-face classes in the fall.

“We are slowly bringing people back,” Johnson said. “We’ll probably have 35% of our sections in-person come fall.”

Johnson is excited to see a busy and active campus once again.

“I’m looking forward to impromptu conversations,” she said. “Running into people in the hallway, saying hello, getting hugs. Feeling like you can connect personally with individuals.”

She knows vaccinations are key to welcoming all students back to campus and wants others to get vaccinated, so they can feel the same protection she does as more on-campus activities resume.

“I know that I have a good chance of not getting COVID after getting vaccinated, but if I do get COVID, it will not be fatal,” she said. “It’s important to have both personal peace of mind and be accountable and responsible to protect your friends and family.”

Find your dose.

Find your vaccination today at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture. Everyone 12 and older is eligible. You can register online or just drop in at any clinic and get vaccinated without an appointment.

If you need a ride to an appointment or can’t easily leave your home, we can help! Call us at (253) 649-1412, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week.

Your role to stop the spread of COVID-19 remains critical.