Eugene Shen remembers the day he was offered a job at Renton Technical College (RTC) mostly because it was funny. The job was as an instructor in the Pharmacy Technician program, known in the college’s shorthand as “Pharm Tech.”
“I went home to explain to my spouse that it seemed really weird that Renton Technical College would have a program about farms,” said Shen.
That was eight years ago, and Eugene has had plenty of time to learn all the quirky names for the dozens of programs at RTC. Today he serves as a tenured academic counselor, helping students to pursue careers in automotive technology and other important skills.
It’s a job that fits him well.
“I really enjoy helping others. It’s what I get the most energy out of,” he said.
Eugene grew up in Canada, where his father was attending a seminary program in the late 1960s. His family travelled there from mainland China, and by a stroke of good luck managed to stay there during the worst of the Maoist Cultural Revolution back home.
That’s not to say things were easy in the Americas. Eugene said they started with a few hundred dollars in their pockets, and had to work multiple low-paying jobs to make ends meet. As the oldest boy among four siblings, he assumed a lot of responsibility for the family, often acting as the cultural interpreter between them and their neighbors, school officials and other institutions.
Eugene attended the University of British Columbia, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He immigrated to Seattle around that time, working for the Chinese Information Service Center that assisted newly arrived immigrants and refugees.
He earned a master’s degree in social work and took his new skills to several nonprofit organizations, eventually gravitating to several teaching positions at community colleges. He was drawn there by the academic freedom, compared to research institutions, and by the community services they provide.
“Community colleges are entities that anyone can be part of and take advantage of,” he said. “They align with my core mission to help people towards their career paths and their dreams.”
Renton Technical College, he said, is especially true to that mission, helping people get the skills and direction to pursue a new path in life. The emphasis on placing students with peers in cohorts - and on personalized counseling before a student registers - means that students have more support than in comparable institutions. “At RTC we get to know students very well and we are a part of their support team,” he said.
Eugene takes that extra step very seriously, making a point in getting to know each of the hundreds of students he works with every year, while also building relationships with the instructors and the programs in his portfolio.
“I feel it is an honor to be part of this college,” he said. “If you look at the diversity of our students, the variety of our offerings, it is a good thing we are doing for our community.”