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Central Washington University

CWU Alum Serving as Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau

Monday, May 17, 2021

Central Washington University alumnus Ron Jarmin has been filling a crucial role in the federal government since January, serving as the acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau for President Joe Biden’s administration.

The Ellensburg native spent five years studying economics at CWU before earning a PhD at the Univeresity of Oregon. Jarmin said his time at Central was instrumental in preparing him for the responsibilities that would facilitate his climb through the Census Bureau.

“I went to college because I didn’t want to be farming my whole life,” said the 1987 CWU graduate. “I’m not sure I knew what I wanted to do, but CWU helped me find it.”

While studying at CWU, Jarmin uncovered what would end up becoming a fruitful career in politics and leadership. Initially, he wanted to study accounting, but he discovered a knack for economics that would carry him all the way to his PhD and beyond.

Jarmin’s time at Central taught him more than just the facts behind economics, however. He credits his experiences outside of his major-track schoolwork with preparing him for a long and varied career.

“Students spend a lot of time learning what they need to learn to get a job, but it never turns out to be what you actually need to do that job,” he said. “What you learn in accounting class isn’t what you actually do in accounting. You’ll learn what you need to learn on the job, so it’s important to take the opportunity to learn something outside your field in college. Broaden your horizons.”

After joining the Census Bureau as a research economist in 1992, Jarmin worked his way up the ladder until he was called on to perform the duties of director during the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations in 2016. 

Being the highest-ranking deputy director at the bureau means he takes charge while the president and Congress work to appoint and confirm an official director, a responsibility that was once again placed on him following this year’s inauguration. Having had to coordinate a census in a year as unorthodox as 2020 provided him with valuable experience, along with the knowledge to overcome many of the organization’s challenges.

“The census is the only activity that I know of anywhere where you try to get absolutely everybody to participate,” Jarmin said. “Coca-Cola knows they won’t get everyone to drink their soda, but the census needs everyone.”

Jarmin often looks back on his time at Central as being pivotal to his career advancement — all the way to a high-ranking position in the federal government. While his time at CWU ended 34 years ago, his memories of the campus and faculty that kickstarted his career remain vivid.

“There were some really great Economics faculty members,” he said. “I remember Professor Mac told jokes all the time. He looked and even sounded a little bit like Groucho Marx.”

Jarmin held a student job with Dining Services during his undergraduate years, an experience that sparked his love for leadership. During that time, he facilitated food shipment between the different campus dining locations.

“That was the first inkling I had that I was a natural leader,” he said. “I probably had the coolest job in the dining hall. I got to drive my truck around and eat a different snack at each location.”

A lot has changed at CWU since Jarmin graduated, but Ellensburg and the surrounding area still hold many of the same charms they did for him four decades ago.

“You’re surrounded by mountains, and there’s all sorts of stuff to do in the area,” he said. “Being from Ellensburg, I did a lot of that stuff growing up. We went up into the hills to go camping, celebrating with our friends out in nature, so we introduced a lot of other folks to those sorts of local things. There’s a lot of fun to be had exploring that area.”

After a career packed with experiences, successes, struggles and exploration, Jarmin continues to value the instinct to experiment and learn outside of one’s field. He appreciates that CWU is able to facilitate that exploration, in the interest of leading its students on a path toward growth — both in the classroom and in their careers.

“Experiences matter,” Jarmin said. “What you’ve done in the past prepared you for what you’re doing now. All those little things you pick up along the way prepare you for the moment when you have to do something big and important.”

Media contact: Rune Torgersen, Department of Public Affairs, rune.torgersen@cwu.edu.

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