Sabah Randhawa, former Oregon State University provost and executive vice president, became Western’s 14th president on Aug. 1.
Randhawa succeeded Bruce Shepard, who retired June 30 after eight years as Western’s president.
During a lengthy, nationwide search, Randhawa impressed trustees with his commitment to diversity and inclusion, shared governance, strengthening students’ academic experience and closing the achievement gap.
“Dr. Randhawa is the person that we believe will be the next great president of Western Washington University,” said Board of Trustees Chair Karen Lee when Randhawa was selected by the trustees. “He’s an exceptional person. He has a sense of humor. He’s highly regarded for his commitment to students, to social justice and to the academy of higher education. And he is a person of dignity and humility.”
Randhawa said he is thrilled to become Western’s president.
“The first thing I would like you to know,” Randhawa said during a public forum soon after he was selected as the preferred candidate, “I am passionate about education, about educational institutions, and really about enhancing educational institutions. As a first-generation student, I owe my career to education. One of the commitments I made when I switched careers into education from working in industry was to provide those same opportunities for others across the globe.”
Randhawa first came to OSU from Pakistan as a graduate student in the 1970s and ended his career there as OSU’s second-ranking administrator, reporting directly to the president as both the chief operating officer and chief academic officer. During Randhawa’s tenure OSU experienced a period of extraordinary growth. Student enrollment surged, the campus and educational programs expanded, and many new facilities were built, such as the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Hospital, the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families, the Linus Pauling Science Center, and the International Living Learning Center. The OSU-Cascades Campus was developed, and the university’s first comprehensive fund raising initiative, the Campaign for OSU, raised $1.14 billion.
Randhawa earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1976 from the University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan. He earned his master’s degree in industrial engineering from OSU in 1980 and his doctorate from Arizona State University, also in industrial engineering, in 1983.
Previous to becoming OSU’s provost, Randhawa was vice provost for academic affairs and international programs at OSU from 2001 to 2004. He was interim dean of OSU’s College of Business from 2001 to 2002. Prior to that, he was associate dean for operations in the OSU College of Engineering from 1999 to 2000 and department head of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering from 1993 to 1999.
Randhawa said he and his wife Uzma Ahmad, are eager to learn more about Western and its community.
“I really, truly am deeply honored for this opportunity to lead Western,” Randhawa said. “We are really looking forward to making Bellingham our home.”
Uzma Ahmad is a counselor with 25 years of experience in mental health, specializing in building resilience in children and families. Most recently, she worked as a mental health counselor and therapeutic parenting coach with clients through Oregon’s Department of Human Services Child Welfare division. For several years, she directed the DHS Family Sexual Abuse Treatment Program in Albany, Oregon, planning treatment and training therapists to support abused children and their non-offending parents.
Ahmad has taught Psychology classes at the University of the Punjab and at Oregon State University, but treasures the one-on-one connection that counselors build with their clients. Many of her clients – children and families -- experienced child abuse, incest, neglect, or other trauma. “We cannot change what they’ve been exposed to,” she says. “Their life continues, and we can be helpful to them in navigating their life in a positive direction, rather than being consumed by their own pain.”
She’s also fascinated by the challenge of leveraging the state’s complex social services system to help children and families at their most vulnerable. As she began to see that children from emotionally healthy families were more apt to respond to treatment to help them recover from trauma, she became more interested in parent education. The cornerstone of resilient families, Ahmad says, are healthy, resilient mothers. “If we don’t have healthy mothers, we cannot have healthy communities,” she says.
Ahmad grew up in Pakistan, one of seven siblings, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Psychology at Kinnaird College in Lahore, then a Master of Science in Psychology at the University of the Punjab. She went on to complete an Advanced Diploma in Clinical Psychology at University of the Punjab, and later worked as a therapist, instructor, research officer and supervisor at the university’s Center of Clinical Psychology.
After she moved to the U.S., Ahmad earned another Master of Science degree in Counseling at Oregon State University and continued her career in Oregon. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Nationally Certified Counselor with special training in a wide variety of issues relating to families and children recovering from trauma and violence.
Ahmad and her husband, Western Washington University President Sabah Randhawa, have one daughter, Tanya Randhawa, who graduated in 2016 from Oregon State University in Digital Communications. Ahmad also enjoys painting with watercolors and has relished the intricate brushwork of children’s portraits. “Kids’ eyes tell you so much,” she says.
She is excited about her move to Bellingham and being a part of the Western family and the Bellingham community. She’ll focus on helping her family acclimate to life in Bellingham while deciding how best to support Randhawa in his role as Western’s president.
“I always tell him, you are smart if you invest in relationships,” Ahmad says. “Investing in relationships enriches life.”