Lee Lambert

2022 Greater Tucson Leadership Tucson Man of the Year

By Tara Kirkpatrick

His assistant was adamant.

Pima Community College Chancellor Lee Lambert was finishing a meeting that had gone late when his assistant, Gabriela De Echavarri, knocked on his door and told him his next appointment couldn’t wait.

“All of a sudden I see these balloons and all these people walk into the room and I was just blown away,” Lambert recalled of the day he was announced as Greater Tucson Leadership’s Man of the Year. “I was completely taken off guard, but in a good way! I’m just so honored and humbled.”

On the decade anniversary of his leadership at PCC, Lambert will be honored April 21 at GTL’s 70th annual Community Impact Awards for distinguishing himself in active support of community projects at personal sacrifice, for aiding those less fortunate and for living in a manner which inspires affection, respect and admiration.

When Lambert was named PCC chancellor in 2013, the U.S. veteran and former president of Washington-based Shoreline Community College took the helm of a school that was facing fallout from the previous administration and was placed on probation by its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission. Lambert helped reverse those fortunes and has led PCC’s renaissance as a critical driver of workforce development and education. In 2017, he was named Chief Executive Officer of the Year by the Association of Community College Trustees — the highest honor for a community college CEO. 

“Chancellor Lambert started his work at Pima Community College at a pivotal time in its history,” said GTL CEO Justin Lukasewicz. “He has helped transform our community college into an innovative organization that is meeting the needs of the workforce and educational development in our community.”

Lambert is committed to bringing everyone to the finish line.

“In our community, there are just shy of 200,000 individuals who have low income and low wage jobs,” Lambert said. “That’s what keeps me up at night. We have to get those people into family sustainable wages.” The region’s expanding high-tech sector needs workers with advanced capabilities. “The people who can’t do that will miss out on those opportunities,” Lambert said. 

During Lambert’s tenure, PCC has built a new, state-of-the-art Automotive Technology and Innovation Center, completed a $21 million expansion of its Aviation Technology Center and, later this year, will open a $35 million Advanced Manufacturing Building —just three facets of the school’s Centers of Excellence in Applied Technology, Aviation Technology, Health Professions, Information Technology/Cybersecurity, Public Safety and Security, Hospitality, and Arts and Humanities. 

“We went out to the community and found out what was needed,” Lambert said. “Out of that came this focus on the Centers of Excellence. We called people into group meetings and we pressure-tested this. Did we get this right? The answer was yes.”

“The key is you’re never done because things are always evolving,” he said. 

Also key to PCC’s 21st century strategy, under Lambert’s leadership, has been a focus on precision learning and micro-pathways to success in which students can seek short-term, non-degree skills which are flexibly offered and can be completed within less than a year. These can then build upon each other to increase top employment potential. It’s a concept Lambert likens to creating a playlist or building a city out of Legos.

“All the pieces are able to be connected to one another,” he said. “As a learner, I can know where my gap is and what skill I need to work on.”

Sarah Smallhouse, president of the Thomas R. Brown Foundations, which gifted a historic $2.5 million to the PCC Foundation in 2020, said the region is blessed to have Lambert as a leader.

“Workforce development is clearly one of the most pressing needs in Southern Arizona, and Pima Community College is at the heart of addressing it,” said Smallhouse. “Any group or institution engaged in workforce development in our region is collaborating with PCC. We are so fortunate to have a strategic and effective collaborator at the helm.”

“What Lee Lambert has accomplished at PCC sets it apart as a national exemplar of excellence and provides our community members pathways to 21st century productivity,” she said.

Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic engine, added, “PCC, through Lee’s leadership, is joined at the hip with us through every client project.  Clients considering relocation or expansion in Southern Arizona can’t say enough good things about Lee and his team.  We’re thrilled he is being recognized.”

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