Kimberly Dawson makes it her job to know presidents.
As executive assistant to CWU’s president since 2014, she has had the privilege of working alongside former CWU President James Gaudino as well as current President Jim Wohlpart.
During that time, she has learned:
• One of President Gaudino’s favorite movies is The Big Lebowski and he’s ordained in the film’s doctrine of “Dudeism”? He also is a huge fan of the San Francisco 49ers and played football in college.
• President Wohlpart loves to read. He has authored or co-authored several books about mankind’s relationship with the earth and the environment, and, not surprisingly, is an English professor.
Who is Kimberly Dawson?
Dawson grew up locally and graduated from Kittitas High School before attending Central, where she studied Administrative Management. She met her husband in college and they have one son, who graduated from Ellensburg High School. She now has a three-year-old granddaughter. “Bubba” is their Dachshund, which Dawson describes as a little dog with a big bark.
Dawson’s education led her to look for employment at Central. In 1991, she started working in the Registrar’s Office.
“That was back in the day when people registered in person, so people lined up at the door of Mitchell Hall,” she recalled. “It was crazy. It was a fun group; there were [about] 25 people that worked on the floor.”
Eventually, Dawson moved on to Admissions and then, in 1998, the President’s Office, where she started out as a secretary. About six years later, she was promoted to administrative operations coordinator, then replaced her boss as Gaudino’s executive assistant.
“I feel fortunate that I have the job that I have and to be able to stay in my hometown,” Dawson said. “I keep that in the back of my mind if I’m having a challenging day.”
What was working with President Gaudino like?
“He’s really a supportive and caring person,” Dawson said of her former boss. “He is very supportive of Central and his wife [Katie] is too. They’ve been great to work with.”
One of the greatest accomplishments Dawson said she helped President Gaudino execute was streamlining the administration of CWU from paper to computer.
“People really liked paper,” Dawson recalled. “I think that’s been a big accomplishment, getting people thinking in a different way. Pretty much everything is electronic now.”
Dawson also said President Gaudino was fun to work with, claiming he has quite “a dry sense of humor.” She related a funny incident in the office.
“We tease him a lot about this, because his favorite movie is The Big Lebowski, and so he’s got all kinds of ‘Dude’ sayings,” she explained. “We purchased him a bobblehead and when he pushes a button it says some of the things that the guy said in the movie.
“My co-worker and I went online one day and got him ordained in ‘Dudeism’ and had [the certificate] framed for him; he had that on his wall. We had a lot of fun with that,” Dawson continued.
Another fun point of contention between Dawson and Gaudino: He’s a hardcore 49ers fan; she prefers the Seahawks.
What about working with President Wohlpart?
“The one thing that I realized right off the bat is that he’s very student-centered,” Dawson said of Wohlpart, who became Central’s president in June 2021. “He was a provost, so he has an academic background.
“He likes to read a lot and so when he first arrived, he asked all of the people that report to him to read this book, ‘The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters,’” she said. “It’s about better ways to meet or have events that make it more meaningful, not [just]another meeting that you [have to] go to, but to focus on something to get people excited to want to go to the meetings.”
Dawson said her favorite part of her job is the people she works with.
“We have a really good team right now,” she said. “All the ‘admins’ that work for each of the vice presidents, we all work really well together. If someone needs something or help with something, we connect…see how everyone’s doing.”
With such a close-knit team, working virtually during the COVID pandemic was not without its limitations.
“I think that was one of the biggest challenges of the past year was feeling like you’re not connected with the people you work with,” Dawson said. “There are some benefits, like being able to put a load of laundry in while you’re working, but it’s hard to not be there.”
But, she added, “We’ve all adapted and everyone’s a professional at Zoom right now.”
The most challenging aspect of her job, Dawson said, is juggling all the different tasks and schedules, sometimes all at once. She described the logistics of trying to get people together for meetings: “It’s either for a Board of Trustees meeting, and they [the board members] don’t work for Central, and so you are trying to get them together [with] their schedules… [or] the Leadership Team, which is the president and all the vice presidents, and they’re busy. So, you just do what you can do.”
A saying Dawson said President Gaudino brought to the office, and she often uses when things aren’t going according to plan is: “It is what it is.” Maybe that’s why Dawson’s co-workers describe her as “unflappable.” But, according to Dawson, “That’s just my personality.”