By ASTRID VERDUGO
Aug. 14, 1981 represents a memorable day for Pima Community College’s recently hired Northwest Campus president.
On that date Alex Kajstura emigrated from formerly communist Poland to the United States, which he considers the greatest country in the world.
“I just very recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of my great move,” Kajstura said.
Kajstura believes he is living the ultimate American success story. He says that once a person is educated and obtains a university diploma, no one can take that away.
He started his college career as a part-time instructor and advanced to department chair, division chair, associate dean, dean and provost. Kajstura reported for work as the Northwest Campus president on June 16.
“I have worked my way up,” Kajstura said. “I’m real excited to have this opportunity.”
He calls community colleges a truly American invention.
“There are no other countries that have community colleges,” Kajstura said. “The beauty of it is how democratic higher education is in the United States. Everyone gets a shot at higher education.”
He said he first heard about PCC through its reputation for being an excellent and innovative college with great leadership. Kajstura pointed out that Pima is one of the largest community college systems in the country.
Kajstura obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Silesian University of Poland in 1978. He said Poland’s university system is based on the German model.
Of 3,000 prospective students who complete general education courses in high school, 100 enter the university system.
“It’s very elitist,” he said. “It’s a more competitive program.”
Students spend four or five years at a university, concentrating on their discipline. When it comes time for graduate school, however, Kajstura said students look to the United States.
“There’s no question that the entire world is looking up to the United States as having the best graduate schools in whatever discipline you choose,” he said.
Kajstura’s father was a violinist for a symphonic orchestra and his mother was a music teacher. They encouraged him and his brother to obtain “a more solid degree,” which provided his greatest incentive to pursue chemistry.
He also obtained a master’s degree in organic chemistry, another master’s in business administration and a doctorate in higher education from Southern Illinois University.
His brother teaches biology at Harvard School of Medicine.
Kajstura thinks Tucson is an exceptional place with very polite and civilized people, and hopes to stay in the city for a long time.
His hobbies include playing golf, exercising and traveling. After living in flat areas of Florida and Virginia, Tucson’s terrain made him realize he had forgotten what it is like to walk uphill on trails.
Kajstura is fluent in English and Polish, and gets by speaking German, Russian and Italian.
“Speak a second language — that gives you an advantage,” he said.
He also advises students to take advantage of PCC’s multiple resources and to get involved in student life.
“Just go for it,” he said. “It’s more than just getting your diploma, it’s about being a well educated citizen of the world.”