Donor Spotlight

Gary Oertli

Gary Oertli

Gary’s first involvement with South Seattle College began in 2007 when, after serving in executive leadership positions at Edmonds Community College, Seattle Central College, and Shoreline Community College, he became the Vice President of Instruction of South Seattle College.

Gary then spent nearly 10 years as President of South Seattle College and is now the college’s president emeritus. He also spent many years on the Board of the South Seattle College Foundation and now serves as a board member emeritus.

Some highlights from Gary’s tenure as President of the College and actively serving on the board of the Foundation:

  • In 2008, the South Seattle College Foundation launched the 13th Year Promise Scholarship, which guaranteed every graduate of Cleveland High School the opportunity to attend South Seattle College tuition-free for their first year.
  • Under Gary’s leadership, major Foundation fundraising campaigns helped to kickstart the 13th year program and increase the number of scholarship endowments to help graduates from Chief Sealth, Rainier Beach, and West Seattle high schools, leading to a growing number of scholarships the Foundation was able to make available to students. The funds also included critical wrap-around services for students as well.
  • By 2011, the South Seattle College Foundation had grown to over $10 million in funds.
  • At the end of Gary’s tenure in 2017 as President of South Seattle College and his participation on the board of the South Seattle College Foundation, the scholarship endowment funds for the 13th year program hit its goal of $12 million, and the overall Foundation endowments had reached a record high of a little over $18 million. This made the South Seattle College Foundation the largest in the state of Washington and ranked in the top 25 percent of community college foundations in the nation.

Some of the things Gary is most proud of regarding his tenure at the College and Foundation were building on the culture of student success for ALL students at South Seattle College, and specifically the success of the 13th year scholarship program as well as:

  • Starting the Pathways Movement that helps all student achieve their academic goals.
  • The hiring of diverse faculty and staff.
  • The success of the College Foundation, especially the leadership of the late Elizabeth Pluhta.
  • And most of all, the 100 percent participation of and financial support by the wonderful people serving on the South Seattle College Foundation board.

Gary has made regular donations to the Foundation over the years in support of not only the general activities of the Foundation and scholarships but also directly supporting the 13th Year Promise Scholarship program.

Individuals can make a huge difference in student success at South Seattle College. There are so many ways donors can feel good about their contributions. For example, donors can give money for scholarships for veterans, for single parents, for specific educational programs, for emergency funds for students, and funding to support faculty and staff development in this ever-changing world. This is particularly true as the college is now facing imminent budget cuts in light of the COVID-19 situation causing much less money to flow in to state coffers.”

Gary was recently honored with the UW Alumni Distinguished Service Award in part for his legacy of serving Washington’s community college system for more than four decades. Excerpts from the article in the UW magazine regarding this award:

Oertli most recently spent 10 years as president of South Seattle College and is now the college’s president emeritus. During that time, he played a key role in dramatically expanding the 13th Year Promise Scholarship, which provided one year of tuition-free college and support services to Seattle public school students.”

(Note: The program was so successful that the City of Seattle initiated a levy to create the funds to make this program available to all of Seattle’s public high schools,  providing tuition-free college and support services to students for their first year of community college and even expanding the program to cover the second year of community college.)

Gary has dedicated his career to expanding access to college, especially in low-income and first-generation, diverse communities, because he sees this as a vital aspect of economic development. ‘If we don’t pay for it upfront and help them get great jobs in our community, we’re going to pay for it in a different way,’ he warns.”

Link to the article in the UW magazine:  https://magazine.washington.edu/feature/a-lifetime-of-leadership

We thank Gary for his tremendous personal influence and commitment to South Seattle College, the students it serves, and the Seattle college community.