The race to complete the last two years of former Triton trustee Donna Peluso, who resigned in 2020 after serving on the board for 28 years, is between Lisa Bickel, Carolyn R. Wilhight and Norma Hernandez.
Bickel, who was appointed to Peluso’s seat in September 2020, said she’s still getting acclimated to the position, but said she’ll look to continue focusing on issues at the community college from the perspective of an educator.
Bickel, who grew up in Melrose Park and currently lives in Elmwood Park, has been teaching at Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview District 89 for seven years.
“I look forward to bringing my teaching perspective to the board,” she said recently. “I don’t think there’s been another teacher on the board.”
Bickel, 35, said she’s taken classes at Triton College herself and is impressed by the college’s upgrades and improvements since she was a student there more than a decade ago.
“I’m just excited to be on the board,” said Bickel, who is on the board’s finance committee. “I don’t have a lot to say with my limited time on the board, but I’m just excited to be part of this. I want to give back to the community, which is why I’m a teacher. I want to continue to make Triton a great place for education for students well into the future.”
Norma Hernandez, 30, attended Proviso East High School in Maywood and studied at Triton before going to Aurora University and securing a degree in social work in 2016. In 2019, she completed an urban planning master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago and currently works as a community development planner at UIC’s Great Cities Institute.
Hernandez said as a student at Triton not that long ago, she’s witnessed the institution’s challenges firsthand.
“I spent the first two years at Triton doing prerequisites that didn’t garner college credit,” she said. “There were also the hurdles of having counselors tell me, ‘Are you sure you want to finish college?’”
Hernandez said the college can do more to help its Black and Brown students feel more welcoming and empowered. She said this reality is, in part, due to the lack of racial and cultural diversity among staff and administrators.
“They’re not giving people who are qualified the opportunity do good work,” Hernandez said, adding that she’s had discussions with Triton faculty members who have complained to her about hiring practices.
Hernandez, who currently lives in Melrose Park, said if she’s elected, she’ll use her background in policy and planning, which she’s already deployed in helping Chicago students understand participatory democracy, at the board table.
Carolyn Wilhight, 55, is a certified public accountant who has 30 years in the financial industry. She served two terms, from 2011 to 2019, on the District 92.5 school board in Westchester, where she lives.
Wilhight said she wants to bring her prior board experience, which includes stints as board president, vice president and secretary, to the Triton board.
“In Westchester, we did retreats and went back to start from the basics,” she said, referencing her time as board president during critical moments, such as disputes between the administration and the union.
“What is our role in terms of governing? We setup policies and procedures. We monitor, manage and make sure they are being sustained. We started there to create better relationships and secondly, we connected with the respective union leaders and inviting them in to have open, transparent conversation as to what they saw.”
Wilhight said she became deeply interested in Triton after her daughter took advanced science courses at the community college while in high school before going off to a university to study pharmacy.
Wilhight said that, if elected to Triton’s board, her priority would be working to ensure that more Black students in Triton’s district know about the gem “north of Westchester.”