By ANDREW PAXTON
Mark Hanna always regretted not going to college.
The newly elected member of Pima Community College’s governing board had a successful career as a manager at Costco in the ‘90s, but he felt like something was missing.
“I felt like I wasn’t able to converse with people who had their degrees, like I wasn’t on their level,” he recalls. “I knew something had to change.”
After 25 years with the company, Hanna retired from Costco and decided to enroll at Pima. He quickly got involved on campus, including with East Campus student government, and made lasting connections.
“Some of the students I worked with at Pima even helped me on my campaign,” he says.
He knew from the start he wanted to use his life experience to help educate children.
“I wanted to be a fifth grade teacher,” he says. “That seemed like a good age.”
Hanna says he fit in immediately at Pima and that the instructors would accommodate him in the classroom.
“Since I’m older, I have trouble memorizing things sometimes,” he says. “So they would let me have some extra time to study before a test.”
During his last semester before earning his bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Arizona, Hanna had an eye-opening experience while working in an actual classroom.
“The lesson plans are so regimented, and I wasn’t able to bring my own experiences to the students,” he says. “That was really discouraging.”
Fearing that his time at college pursuing a second career might have been for naught, Hanna spoke with a UA adviser, who recommended he become a high school counselor.
Hanna had already been working with students at Catalina High Magnet School while studying at Pima.
After earning his master’s from UA, he got a job at Catalina as a career and college readiness counselor.
He worked with students who wanted to do better for themselves, but that most others had already written off.
“Everyone had given up on them even graduating high school,” he says. “No one thought they could go to college.”
Hanna used his experience to help match students with career paths they would most likely enjoy and be successful in. Many of his students would transition to Pima, and he knew how important the college was to the community.
“So when all the problems at Pima started coming out, I thought to myself, ‘What can I do to help?’” he says.
He began considering running for PCC’s governing board, and discussed the prospect with his wife, friends and advisers. They told him what to expect and what it would cost, monetarily and in terms of time and energy.
“The pros just outweighed the cons,” he says.
His first step was to collect signatures to get on the November ballot. This gave him his first contact with voters.
“Almost everyone I spoke with had a positive experience or feeling about Pima, and I could tell it was important to people,” he says.
Although it initially appeared he would run unopposed, Tucson Medical Center executive Michael Duran also entered the race. Hanna says having a contested election was beneficial by allowing voters to hear more about the candidates and the issues.
“Michael and I met up and decided to run a clean, positive campaign, and I’m proud that we both held up to that,” Hanna says. He added that he will consult with Duran in the future on issues where he may have more expertise.
Hanna says one reason he was elected was his grass-roots effort to engage voters. He knocked on thousands of doors and met with hundreds of constituents during the campaign.
“They were happy that I was taking the time to come out and talk to them, and many said that they were going to vote for me because of that,” he says.
On election night, Hanna was glued to the Pima County election website, refreshing the page every few minutes to get the latest results. The next day, while votes were still being counted, Duran called Hanna and conceded.
After he is officially sworn in on Jan. 14, Hanna says he is ready to start taking on the many challenges facing the college.
“Obviously, the first step is getting off probation,” he says. “But it can’t just be a Band-Aid; we need to make sure we are really taking care of all the issues.”
Hanna adds there are many other uncertainties regarding higher education in general, and Pima must do everything possible to remain relevant and competitive. That includes exploring more international options as well as improving classrooms and instructor training.
“We have to make sure we are offering useful classes that people actually need, and staying on the cutting edge or being as close to the edge as possible,” he says. “Higher education keeps changing all the time, faster than the technology in our cell phones, and we have to keep up.”
He also recognizes the importance of improving financial aid and other student services.
“The No. 1 factor that keeps people out of college is financial aid,” he says. “And I know from helping students at Catalina, the process is difficult at best.”
Pima’s student service employees do a great job, but the college needs to support them and empower them more, he says.
“Maybe there is more than one way we can do things to make it easier for them and the students.”
Hanna feels honored to be chosen as a trustee of the college, and recognizes the importance of his job.
“When someone goes to college, it increases the chances of their children going, and so on,” he says. “So you’re not just impacting one person’s life, but you could be changing an entire family’s future.”