As we start a new school year at O’Dowd, we joyously welcome Kim Walsh as our new president. Kim's 30 year career in public relations and management consulting included senior roles at the White House, the California Governor's Office and Vice President of Communications at PG&E. She first joined O’Dowd as a parent of three alumni and later as a Board Member then Interim-President. Most recently, Kim was our Chief of Campus Planning and Development, overseeing the construction of the new Bishop John S. Cummins Center and the acquisition of the campus’ adjacent property, Seneca. Get to know Kim from a recent Q&A session.
Q: What called or inspired you to become O’Dowd’s next president?
A: Having worn a variety of hats since joining the O’Dowd community in 2010, I’m confident it is the people at O’Dowd who inspired me to be president. In 2017, our community was rocked by the sudden passing of Dr. Steve Phelps, our first president. As the Chair of the Board of Regents, I assumed the role of interim-president. At that time, through our collective grief, I sought to help us heal, stabilize, and most importantly, lead the community in keeping Steve’s dream alive – building the Bishop John S. Cummins Center.
When the opening for the presidency was announced, I felt a calling to serve the community as president and was reminded of the many ways Steve would feel called to serve while he was president. I found myself praying to God for guidance and asking for his support as I discerned if I was the right servant leader for O’Dowd. Through this discernment, I was humbled by how many people supported me in stepping into this role and I found myself asking “If not me, then who?”
I find myself thinking of Steve daily. His presence on this campus and to many in the community is still an inspiration and a reminder that just showing up and being here to serve is the most important factor in being a leader. Our community members want to be seen and heard. I step onto campus each day ready to see and serve them.
Q: What stood out to you the first time you came to O’Dowd?
A: The first time I came to O’Dowd, I drove up to the front gate of the school. This chain-linked gate was nearly 20 feet tall and had barbed wire going across the top. My immediate reaction was that this didn’t seem very welcoming to anyone, much less a tired teenager being coaxed to school by their parent at 8:00 in the morning. I felt this need to do something about it, the first of many times I felt called to step up at O’Dowd, and spoke with Dr. Phelps about changing the front entrance to not only be welcoming but also a place where our security guards could sit. Before I knew it I was named the head of a committee and I went to work fundraising and managing the creation of our current front gate. The experience reminds me that if you see something that needs a change - step up and say something. Find a way to help the community or the campus be all that it can be.
Q: How does your faith guide you as a leader?
A: My faith is everything to me and I think that may be because I found my faith as an adult. Growing up my mother was Catholic and my father was Baptist so they decided to not raise me in any organized religion. When I met my husband, who was raised Catholic, I was struck by the Catholic community. Our family joined the Corpus Christi parish and I knew this was a community I wanted to be part of and raise our children in. Just as my three kids began their religious education to prepare for their first communion, I felt called to take steps to officially become Catholic. On Easter Vigil, I was baptized by Fr. Leo.
As a leader, my faith reminds me that there is a purpose to my life. I am part of something bigger than myself. I want to use my time on earth to make a difference in the lives of others. It is inspiring to lead a faculty and staff who are changemakers and educators, working to spark the interest of 1,260 teenagers on a daily basis.
One of the things that strikes me about being Catholic is the levels of faith we experience daily. There are well-known prayers, the importance of daily and weekly mass, and then there is the personal connection to God. The opportunity to lean on our Lord in our times of need. And what I have come to realize is that when we lean on our community, we are leaning into what God is calling us to do.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give your high school self?
A: I would tell myself to take advantage of everything O’Dowd has to offer. Those experiences will help you find your passion, lifelong friends, and your voice. I have seen so many students live out our Charism’s call to be joyful because they allowed themselves to take risks and discover their full potential.
Q: What is your hope for the students of O’Dowd?
A: I want our students to leave O’Dowd realizing the power of their gifts, leading them to discover their passions. As a college prep high school, our students have the opportunity to face challenges and develop resiliency. I want them to take on those challenges and know that it is okay to fail along the way. You are not measured by your failures. You are measured by standing up after each fall. I want our students to continue to see O’Dowd as a safe place to try new things, go outside their comfort zones, and know this is a community that will always have your back. That is what makes O’Dowd’s generations of alumni return year after year. They know they are not Dragons for just four years. They are Dragons through and through, forever.