Keely Damara/Courier Alex Boekelheide, the new executive director of Strategic Communications & Marketing, stands in the PCC Sculpture Garden in Pasadena, Calif. on Monday, October 26, 2015. Boekelheide, who started at PCC in the beginning of October, previously held the position of executive director of communications at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.
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Working with the backdrop of PCC trying to get out of accreditation probation, under the direction of a new president and new academic senate leadership, Alex Boekelheide, PCC’s newly hired executive director of the recently rebranded Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing, is setting the stage to cast the school in a more positive light.

Boekelheide, who originally studied theater at USC before being recast in the world of public relations, comes to PCC after serving as the executive Director of communication for UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Before that, he served as the director of online and print communications at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.

“Alex will be tasked with developing a comprehensive external and internal communications and marketing plan to serve the ever-expanding needs of our campus,” President-Superintendent Vurdien said in an email.

The Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing brings all of the school’s media resources, such as photography, social media, and the PCC website, together in one place.

“The Public Relations Office was under-resourced and under-staffed in the past,” said publications supervisor Gilbert Rivera. “With the retooling of our area into Strategic Communications and Marketing, we’ll hopefully be able to address those issues.”

According to Boekelheide, one of the goals of bringing these departments together is to provide the school with a unified, strategic vision of how it wants to present itself internally, to the community, and to current and future students.

“There’s so much good going on here,” Boekelheide said, “but we can’t have it all just land in the crowded media environment of Pasadena.”

Boekelheide first got interested in public relations reflecting on the way institutions can affect a city’s image, development, and how people see themselves in relation. PCC was an exciting example of that effect to him.

“PCC has been part of the Pasadena culture for the past 90 years. You can’t have Pasadena without PCC, you can’t have PCC without Pasadena,” Boekelheide said.

“We have an excellent reputation within the community, and moving forward we would like to continue to keep that reputation intact,” Rivera explained via email.

With the office restructuring, the school hopes to get away from any negative image it has developed from accreditation probation and conflicts between school leadership and faculty. The school’s previous public relations head, Valerie Wardlaw, left the college in September 2014, months after presiding over the school’s response to the commencement speaker controversy involving alum and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. The college described her departure at the time as a “private personnel matter.”

“It’s been a rough couple years and the campus is ready to turn a page,” Boekelheide said. “The quality of the instruction and the enthusiasm the community has for PCC is top notch. Seeing that and being able to build on it is really exciting.”

One cosmetic way the school is trying to change its public image is through a long-promised website redesign.

“It’s big,” said Boekelheide. “We’re basically looking at the entire website and reimagining it from the bottom up.”

The new director is in the process of holding content workshops with departments to determine their needs for their respective department sites. The goal is to turn the unwieldy 38,000 page website into a more easily navigable tool for students to find information, and for departments to effectively communicate and broadcast their resources.

“I sort of see some of what I do as putting on a show: highlighting characters, crafting a big story,” Boekelheide said.

“One of the most untold stories on campus is the success of our students,” he explained, ”both in terms of who they are when they get here and what they’re doing while they’re on campus—not just in their classes—and where do they go from here. What does PCC mean to them after they step out the door and what services and value do we provide to them.”

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