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Patten excited to help move college
forward at 'pivotal moment'
Sept. 9, 2013
Though David Patten is only in his first weeks as the vice president for Business Affairs at the Community College of Rhode Island, it’s clear that he’s comfortable hitting the ground running and taking his transition from the corporate world in stride. Perhaps it’s because Patten, who once took classes at the college and then continued his education as a working adult, said he intends to make his tenure here a long one.
“I want to make a commitment to the college and the people who work here. That’s something I did when I was at Pfizer for 15 years, and I never missed a day of work. When I’m dedicated to something personally or professionally, I put my heart and soul into it,” he said.
Apart from his experience at the college some years before, Patten said he pursued his new position because of the diversity of responsibilities that he would encounter. That, combined with President Ray Di Pasquale’s leadership and the ability to assist during what he sees as a pivotal moment – one where the college is balancing traditional academic concerns with economic drivers and workforce development issues – made the opportunity an attractive one. Indeed, it’s the prospect of helping to move the college forward that excites Patten, who has essentially embarked on a two-month-long information-gathering and assessment period.
“It’s a little early to say right now,” he said, “but what I’d like to contribute here is to spend some time looking at the organization, its strengths and weaknesses and find out what the things are that I can specifically plug into to help advance the college in addition to managing the day-to-day functions of Business Affairs. There are a lot of things that can be done, but you can’t boil the ocean, of course. You have to be selective.”
Though Patten said his career trajectory has been more of a journey of self-discovery than a single-minded pursuit, it certainly seems that his experience has prepared him well for just this type of challenge. After parlaying his first real job washing floors for McCrory’s, a now-defunct retail chain, into an assistant manager position at age 19, it wasn’t long before Patten was tapped to run a regional team. It was then his responsibility to travel the Northeast, visiting various stores and spearheading their renovation and remerchandising in an effort to increase sales and profits. His work exposed him to an array of interesting opportunities, all aligned with a higher strategic purpose, including HR issues, budgeting, planning and capital projects.
While Patten said he found the work undeniably rewarding, he found that his mind returned to a deferred dream of his. Unable to afford college tuition, he had been forced to drop out of school and start at McCrory’s. While he was receiving valuable on-the-job training, he said he always regretted being unable to finish his degree. When the chance came for him to take advantage of a tuition reimbursement program offered by his next employer, General Dynamics/Electric Boat, he didn’t think twice, going back to school while working full time to obtain his bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and, eventually, his Master of Business Administration from Providence College as well as a certificate of advanced graduate studies from Salve Regina. “I realized that education was important, and that if I wanted to contribute at a more meaningful level, I needed to go back and finish. I wanted to finish what I started,” he said.
His drive to finish and his passion for education were certainly necessary to carry him through the arduous task of working full time while pursuing his degrees. “You have to be dedicated to it … you have to have the initiative and energy to say, ‘This is my time to study; I’d love to go to the beach but I have to do this instead,’” he said.
It’s safe to say that beyond accomplishing his goals, Patten enjoys education for its own sake. He is completing his doctorate at Salve Regina University, where he is working on a dissertation focusing on ethical decision-making in various organizations. The passion project first came to interest Patten while he worked in worldwide research and development at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. While there, Patten began in a role in facilities and building operations, eventually working his way up to a global role, where he eventually had a hand in making strategic decisions during the company’s acquisitions of Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia and Wyeth – three of the largest mergers in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. His assignments took him to many sites across the United States and Europe as operations were assessed and modified to achieve the goals of the newly expanded organization.
After a brief period of working as an independent consultant, Patten said he knew he wanted to join a community once more, and be a part of a team of people working toward a common goal. He said that from his first moments in the interview process with CCRI, he could sense that he had found his next home. “I was really struck by how people described their co-workers here; you hear a lot of people say the people they work with here are their family,” he said.
While Patten’s first family makes its home in Westerly – he and his wife of 23 years, Mary-Kay, have a daughter, Kayla, 18, and son, Jack, 16 – he is glad to have found his second family here on the CCRI campuses. He says he is happy to be involved in steering a valuable community asset, particularly one that helped him find his way during his early years, into the future.
“Not everyone can afford to have their parents write a check to Brown University, and I’m an example of that,” he pointed out. “With the way the economy is, with a lot of people struggling, it’s important that CCRI is here to help students either find their way or start on an associate degree. With the economy transitioning and with everything that’s going on, community colleges, more so than larger schools, are in a position to be more nimble and responsive to those changing needs. It’s an exciting time to be here.”