The Interview USA
Mount Hood Community College
Vice President of Student Development

John Hamblin

Is the key to strengthening student engagement in Higher Education (HE) fostering a strong connection between students and their college community? When students feel a sense of belonging and inclusion, they feel comfortable seeking vital support services, which in turn improves student outcomes.

Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, met with John Hamblin, Vice President of Student Development at Mount Hood Community College, to discuss how they’re leveraging connection-building as an approach to creating an inclusive culture that enables all students to thrive.

John's Journey

Luke: Let's start with a brief introduction to yourself and your institution.

I’m John Hamblin, the Vice President of Student Development at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. Our college serves various high socioeconomic needs school districts and a diverse student population of 27,000, including 6,000 apprenticeship students.

I grew up in a small conservative town in Oregon. As a first-generation college student, I found the transition to living in the metro area overwhelming; one of my university Chemistry instructors saw the challenges I was facing and stepped in to offer me support. It wasn’t until I started working in HE that I realized that wasn’t his direct responsibility – that experience motivated me to follow a career path in HE.

Luke: What’s most important when building a sense of belonging and inclusion?

You can’t approach it with a one-size-fits-all mentality; you need to be mindful of the diversity within our student body, everything from culture to upbringing and so on. My approach is one of culture development – we start with, ‘Treat others how you wish to be treated’ and work towards, ‘Treat others how they wish to be treated.’ 

We also acknowledge that our faculty staff are face-to-face with our students daily; they’re best placed to understand them on a deeper level and build meaningful connections. As administrators, we want to empower and support our staff to dream up and share their ideas, not impede progress in creating an inclusive environment for our students.

Luke: How do you engage all students in creating an inclusive culture, particularly time-poor students?

Over the last two years, we’ve piloted an outreach program to welcome new students with an emphasis on personalized communication. We must contribute to building a strong connection between our students and the college community from the get-go. We want all students to know a name, face, and department so they feel comfortable reaching out for support. Since the introduction of the pilot, we’ve seen retention rates of almost 90% and increased engagement with support services. We’re also addressing gaps in the provision of services to meet our students’ basic needs so they don’t need to compromise their studies because of extracurricular commitments. Our new Equity Center will house basic needs support facilities alongside our Student Services Hub, which provides tailored, over-the-shoulder support that meets students where they are.

Luke: What other areas are you providing support for students?

The biggest challenge post-pandemic has been getting students back on campus and addressing a growing need for mental health and resiliency support. This means we need to consider the types of support we offer carefully and the pathways to access that support. We can meet our students’ most essential needs when we get this right.

Luke: How do you support staff in being open to new ideas and approaches?

Encouraging and investing in professional development is key; a lack of professional development can limit innovation and openness to new ways we can support our students. It’s also important to foster a culture of growth and continuous improvement. We’ve found this approach to be transformative when paired with data tracking and analysis – we know what’s needed and how best to deliver it so we can elevate student success.

Luke: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received across the course of your career?

A former Vice President once told me, ‘I’d rather see you fall on your face than on your butt’ – it clearly demonstrated the idea of being proactive instead of reactive. When you fall forward, you’re moving towards something. I encourage this sentiment with my teams; we’re not afraid to try new things, even when they fail. Another that stands out is listening to your staff and your students. You may not love everything you hear, but listening builds that sense of connection and belonging, which ultimately leads to better outcomes for our students.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Luke James
Luke works hand-in-hand with leaders and changemakers in our professional services markets. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.