Brad Avakian carved out his life early

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Get to know the Clark College executive cabinet. These leaders of the college have long titles and lots of degrees but they’re also … people. Each month we’ll feature a story about these individuals so you can learn a little more about the people leading Clark College.

By the time he finished high school, Brad Avakian had met his wife, found his best friends and identified many lifelong interests.

In elementary school, young Brad Avakian couldn’t have predicted that he’d become vice president of human resources and compliance for Clark College. But a remarkable number of other themes in Avakian’s life trace back to that time.

In fourth grade, Avakian met the five boys who would become his best friends to this day. Together, the men are an eclectic group. One is an opera singer. Another is a mortgage banker. One is an electrical engineer who helped design the iPhone.

Brad Avakian is vice president of human resources and compliance for Clark College

Brad Avakian, center, met people early on who enjoyed the outdoors and who would remain his best friends to this day.

When Avakian was 16 years old, he and these friends made a pact: they would go backpacking together in a different place each year. In September 2022, they completed trip number 45. The itineraries have changed. As young men they might cover 40 miles during a 5-day trip. This summer, they picked a base camp and did some short overnight excursions.

Avakian fell in love with backpacking as a child. He and his brother were members of a Boy Scout troop in Hillsboro, Ore., that backpacked twice a month, every month of the year, regardless of weather.

“It was a remarkable experience,” he said.

Public service

Even Avakian’s well-known political life began in childhood. Avakian had a 16-year political career prior to joining Clark in 2021. He served in the Oregon House, Oregon Senate and as the elected Oregon commissioner of labor. Avakian credits his lifelong interest in public service to reading the newspaper as a child. His family received a daily newspaper and his father used to quiz Avakian and his brother about world events each evening during dinner.

“He taught me that the world was a much bigger place than my dinner table,” he said.

Avakian married his high school sweetheart, Debbie, and they raised two children. When their children were young and attending public school in Beaverton, the school district eliminated music and arts programs and Avakian felt compelled to run for office. The issue was personal for him. Today, the couple’s children are pursuing careers in the arts in New York City. His son is a composer, and his daughter is a singer and dancer.

Passions outside Clark

In addition to working for Clark, Avakian teaches night classes in Willamette University’s MBA program.

In his remaining spare time, Avakian is an avid woodworker, constructing furniture and housewares. He uses naturally shed antlers and pieces of wood with “live” edges, meaning their lines follow the natural contours of a tree rather than being squared on all sides.

Deer and elk shed their antlers every year, so no animals are harmed in Avakian’s creations. Avakian has collected antlers on walks in the woods but now he goes through 250 antlers each summer.

“I could never collect as many as I need,” he said. “I have to buy them.”

Brad Avakian is vice president of human resources and compliance for Clark College

Brad Avakian is an avid woodworker, constructing furniture and housewares. He uses naturally shed antlers in his creations.

Avakian has a company, Deerwood Designs. He sells his tables and housewares at artists’ markets around Oregon.

When Avakian lost a bid to become Oregon’s secretary of state, in 2016, he said it felt like a natural time to transition out of politics.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking to jump into higher education,” he said. But when his current position opened up, some friends who worked at Clark contacted him. He liked the college’s “good, forward-looking team.”

He got onboard in 2021 and has enjoyed the role. When not on campus, he has plenty of other pursuits to keep him busy.

Story by Lily Raff McCaulou

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